Every home in the Newcastle area should have at least one carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide gas is odorless, tasteless, invisible – and can be dangerous. All carbon-based heating fuels – oil, natural gas, propane, butane – release carbon monoxide when they burn. The gas is usually vented outside the house, but appliance breakdowns or malfunctions can redirect it into the house.
How is carbon monoxide dangerous to your health? Your lungs continuously extract oxygen from the air. The oxygen combines with a substance in your lungs called hemoglobin, which carries it through your blood to oxygenate your body. Carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin the same way oxygen does, but binds to it much more tightly. The bound up hemoglobin can’t oxygenate your body and can’t release the carbon monoxide.
All home heating systems and hot water tanks are designed to expel exhaust gases, including carbon monoxide, outside the house. Most older homes in the Newcastle area passively vent the hot exhaust gas outside the house. The hot gas rises above the surrounding air, and is pulled up the flue or chimney by the pressure difference between the outside and the inside of the house. Some systems have blowers that help push the gas out.
A change in pressure inside or outside the house can reverse the flow of exhaust gas. A blocked or damaged flue can also cause the gas to back up. A poorly designed venting system, can affect the pressure gradient inside the house, pulling carbon monoxide away from the furnace before it’s exhausted. Portable gas or oil heaters meant for outdoor use are a common source of carbon monoxide-related deaths when used inappropriately. Checking for carbon monoxide is one of the many things that your heating technician will do during your annual maintenance visit.
You can place detectors in the basement near the furnace or in other rooms in the house. But make sure you have at least one detector in or near your bedroom so it will wake you if a carbon monoxide leak occurs at night. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. Carbon monoxide mixes with room air, so there is no need to place the detector up high or near the floor. The best option is to place it where it can be easily serviced and tested.