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Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a odorless, colorless gas that is produced by burning fuel. It is slightly lighter than air, which causes it to rise to the top of the space it occupies. It is very toxic for both humans and animals, and should be avoided in high concentrations. Homes with fireplaces are especially prone to accidental CO poisoning, if not properly vented. For this reason, you need to have a regular chimney cleaning and inspection to make sure you don’t have a dangerous situation on your hands.

Here are some common facts regarding CO and CO poisoning:

  • Hundreds of people are killed each year by accidental CO exposure.
  • Once CO is absorbed into the bloodstream, it blocks oxygen from getting to vital organs.
  • CO is known as the “silent killer” because it is so difficult to detect unless you have a CO monitor.
  • CO poisoning causes sleepiness, fatigue, and mental confusion, making it much harder to remove yourself from the contaminated area.

A couple of the ways that chimneys can be big emitters of CO is if they are dirty or obstructed. A dirty chimney is covered in creosote, which is highly flammable. Creosote can catch on fire, causing damage to the chimney and home. An obstructed chimney will keep the smoke from exiting the chimney properly, and can even send the smoke back into the house. Obstructions can come from birds nests, insect or animal nests, and natural debris like leaves or branches. Chimney caps can help avoid these types of obstructions.

CO poisoning can come from a variety of other places, like grills, furnaces, and even your car. Never grill indoors, or underneath a covering. Make sure your furnace is working properly, and is not putting out any dangerous carbon monoxide. When starting your car in a garage, make sure the door is open. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a very helpful list of carbon monoxide facts that just may help save your life.