Is the Air Quality in Your Home Safe from Carbon Monoxide?

ByMarc Silberberg


Tragedy struck a luxury Sandals resort in the Bahamas last week when three tourists died and another became seriously sick from originally unknown causes. However, recently it is seriously suspected that the venting in the hotels rooms unknowingly spread carbon monoxide into the air of the suites. These high-end accommodations go for up to one thousand dollars a night and were booked for honeymooners fresh from their weddings.

Emerald Bay is situated in Great Exuma, Bahamas and is billed as a couples only resort. Four innocent newlyweds were sent back to their rooms even after complaining about feeling sick and seeking medical treatment. Three out of the four are dead. So far, the suspicion is that the carbon monoxide got through to the suites from some construction work that affected the ventilation and/or heating system in the resort. Until the autopsy results come back the verdict is still out on the reasons for these tragic deaths but no matter what the cause the ventilation systems are to blame.

Every year vacationers get sick or die from carbon monoxide poisoning due to defective or malfunctioning equipment such as pool and water heaters, boilers and other devices that can leak carbon monoxide.

How Does Carbon Monoxide Get into Your Home?

It all boils down to adequate venting. Whether it’s your air conditioning and heating system, your furnaces, wood stoves and fireplaces and even gas stoves, these are all potential hidden danger zones for leaky carbon monoxide.

For example, if a defective unvented gas heater is working in a 1680 square foot home, the carbon monoxide level could be raised to 30 ppm (parts per million). In a mobile home half the size, the deadly concentration will be double or 60 ppm.

There are two types of homes regarding dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, loose and tight homes. Loose means that the house is large such as an old house or that there is an open door. A tight house is one where it seems that there is not a lot of space for air to circulate such as a mobile home. The trouble is both these types of homes are danger zones for carbon monoxide poisoning. Just because the door to the garage is open does not guarantee that a resident cannot be overcome by this substance. It entirely depends on the concentration at the moment of inhalation.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

It is odorless, colorless, and deadly and it can kill someone before they are aware of what is happening to them. The way carbon monoxide kills is by attaching itself to the red blood cells and depriving these crucial cells from absorbing oxygen. This is called formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood preventing the intake of oxygen. The age of the person, the concentration of the gas and the length of exposure time will vary greatly in each venue where people are exposed. When there is a low concentration in a healthy person, he or she will feel tired while someone who has a heart condition will feel dizzy and feel pain in the chest. As the concentration increases so do the symptoms such as impaired vision, headaches, confusion, and nausea. These flu- like symptoms will dissipate when the person leaves the house, but this is false hope of feeling better unless the resident realizes why he or she is showing signs of improvement. This is most likely what occurred in the Bahamas when the unfortunate victims left the medical facility since they were feeling better only to go back to the “scene of the crime” and perish. This false relief is called dilution which means getting some fresh air to mix with the dangerous gas. There are advantages to dilution which will be detailed later but to just go out and get fresh air and go back into a contaminated home or building will not solve the issue and therefore people end up dying in their sleep when there is no dilution. So, this type of dilution is just a temporary bandage which can help until a venting solution is found.

How Can You Keep Your Residence Safe from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

1) First and foremost, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. If you live in a large residence, you may need several. The wisest advice is to consult your local fire department to find out the safest way to keep your home carbon monoxide free. There is no specific data on the general requirements of these detectors in specific hotel rooms nor do we have specific news information if the hotel in the Bahamas where three people were killed had carbon monoxide detectors in each room. Some experts suggest bringing your own detector when vacationing in strange resorts since each state and country may have their own laws.

2) Keeping your kitchen ranges and stoves clean and in proper working condition is imperative for keeping your home safe. These appliances can be sources of carbon monoxide especially if they are used without the right ventilation.

3) Clothes dryers, water and space heaters and furnaces are powered by burning fuel in some homes. Inspection and maintenance by air quality specialists will assure you that these machines are not emitting carbon monoxide into your home. It is a fact that carbon monoxide poisoning happens more often during the cold winter months when less fresh air is let into the home.

4) Fireplaces are used during the winter months as an additional source of heating the home. Smoke from burning wood can increase the concentration of dangerous airborne factors including carbon monoxide so make sure to open the flue when using your fireplaces and have your chimney cleaned when necessary.

5) Carbon monoxide is present when smoking since when the tobacco burns carbon monoxide is created and especially in enclosed rooms the toxic air will increase and expose all the occupants besides the smoker to dangerous fumes.

6) Portable generators that are gas-powered are a great bonus to homes that are in an area where power loss is present such as flooding, and hurricane zones and people feel that these machines are a great safety addition to their homes. Beware that these types of generators produce high levels of carbon monoxide and should only be utilized outdoors and at least twenty-five feet from open doors and windows.

What is Dilution and is it an Efficient Method of Removing Contaminants?

By bringing in outside air the carbon monoxide level gets diluted or lowered. However, this is an inefficient way to remove pollutants from the home simply because the carbon monoxide is still being produced and even with high amounts of fresh air the pollutants are not removed. Dilution is also not cost effective since bringing in cold air in the winter or warm air in the summer will increase heating and cooling costs. Instead of using this temporary band aid it would be much smarter for the homeowner to have the carbon monoxide removed directly by an air quality specialist who is trained to specifically test the air and clean it. Additionally, there are also new direct-venting heaters that will vent the combustible substances straight outdoors.

Final Words

No one wants to wait for tragedy to strike to fix ventilation system problems. When visiting friends, relatives or going to a new hotel it is prudent to check on their carbon monoxide detector requirements. Just because a hotel in another country or city is charging exorbitant prices is no guarantee for your family’s safety as three unfortunate newlyweds families learned recently when they were killed in the Bahamas. The story is unfortunate, but it could be prevented in the future.

We tend to hermetically seal ourselves in the hot summer and cold winter and maybe open our windows when the spring hits. Then there are those who suffer severe seasonal allergies in the spring and cannot stand having the windows open. Now sneezing, wheezing, and coughing are certainly no laughing matter, but they still don’t hold a candle to the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. If an otherwise healthy person is feeling nauseous, dizzy, or having flu-like symptoms and feels better almost immediately upon going out in the fresh air, he or she might be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. It can still be fatal if the person goes right back into the dangerous indoors that they just left. This is what happened in the Bahamas and has happened to others whose loved ones may never find out why they died. There is just a one letter difference between carbon dioxide, which is a source of life on earth and carbon monoxide, which is a source of death.

Interchanging the m for the d and you can have a serious crisis on your hands that not even the fire department can do much about when it is too late. Let’s say, “To life” by following the simple steps listed above to keep your family safe no matter where you are or where you travel.

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