When it comes to owning a fireplace, in addition to the warmth and ambience created, there are also safety issues that you should know about, with carbon monoxide being top on the list. In fact, each year in the United States alone, more than 200 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning, all from venting problems associated with the fireplace.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, all things some homeowners associate with the flue. If the problem is not fixed, the damage can be permanent and irreversible, affecting the heart, lungs, and brain. Even worse, if the leak is bad, the poisoning will kill. Since this type of poisoning is odorless and colorless, it is extremely dangerous!
The heating compounds that you use for your home is called hydrocarbons, which is a combination of hydrogen and carbon. The hydrocarbons in your furnace and chimney mix with oxygen in your home. As they burn, heat is produced. However, what happens is that if you have not ensured your chimney is working properly, the oil or gas is burned less or more completely. This creates fumes, which consist primarily of carbon dioxide and water vapor.
Then, if the chimney does not get adequate oxygen because your home is tight or the chimney is not functioning correctly, carbon monoxide is produced instead of dioxide. In other words, the lack of the oxygen atom creates a huge problem. When you get too much carbon monoxide in your bloodstream, it will kill. Since you cannot see or smell this type of gas, it is imperative that you pay attention to flu-like symptoms and consider that your chimney might have a leak.
Depending on the severity of the leak, it could take days or weeks for permanent damage to be done or, if the leak is large, people will simply become violently ill and die. If you suspect that you might have a leak and are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, you need to get outdoors immediately. The best thing at this point is getting away from the gas and into the fresh air.
You then need to contact your local utility company and get in touch with their emergency department. They are very good at sending someone out almost immediately. If the family is ill, then you should call 911. Whatever you do, never go back inside the house until the problem has been checked and resolved. Finally, even if you are just a little sick, you should seek medical attention.
The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is becoming more and more a problem. This can be due from homes being built tight, as a means of conserving energy. The problem with this is that there is not enough airflow. Additionally, many of the high-efficiency oil and gas furnaces are hooked up to existing flues that are not working properly. Finally, the flue could be damaged from age, the chimney could have clogs from creosote, or there could be debris in the chimney. Regardless, you can avoid this problem by having your fireplace and chimney inspected once a year by a professional that knows exactly the things to look for.