Carbon Monoxide Detection Important During Snowstorms

Snow Accumulation Can Block Ventilation

When a snowstorm hits, carbon monoxide (CO) becomes a threat if exhaust vents for appliances and engines get covered up by snow.

“Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel,” said Chief Scott Owen, Marshfield Fire Department. “Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels.”

The issue became real after last [From 2018] weekend’s heavy snowstorm, when the department was dispatched to a residence where the CO detector went off.

“The on-scene crew, upon entering the building, had significant readings on our monitors indicating there was an issue within the structure,” said Owen. “Upon investigation it was determined that, due to the blizzard conditions, the exhaust vent for the furnace had been completely blocked by snow.”

Fortunately, the situation had an easy fix. The snow was cleared from the vent pipe and the CO readings dropped. Homeowners can prevent carbon monoxide by being proactive about clearing the vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace of any snow.

“If you need to warm-up a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run it (or any other fueled engine or motor) indoors for an extended period of time, even if garage doors are open,” Owen advised. “If a generator is used, it needs to be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings to prevent any exhaust (CO) from entering the structure.”

These methods are vital to prevent the effects of CO exposure, which varies by the victim’s health and activity level and enters the body through breathing. “Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be,” said Owen. “CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.”

The danger increases for people sleeping or intoxicated, and can cause brain damage or death before anyone realizes what’s amiss. That’s why a CO detector is needed in homes and is required by state law. Batteries should be checked and replaced as needed. Low batteries can cause the alarm to emit a sound, but if it persists after a battery change, call the fire department and move outdoors or by an open window or door.

“Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for,” said Owen. “Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel declare that ii is safe to re-enter the structure.”

Test alarms once a month and replace according to manufacturer’s instructions, usually every seven years. Due to the invisible nature of carbon monoxide, alarms should never be unplugged.

“State law requires all single family and two-unit homes – new and existing – to install a CO alarm on every floor level, near sleeping areas,” Owen said.  Alarms do not need to be installed in the attic or garage of homes.”

More information from the National Fire Protection Association can be found in the following links: