Analysis Shows Increased Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

Despite An Increase in Alarm Requirements, statistics show Increased Carbon Monoxide Poisonings, likely due to a combination of factors including Severe Weather and Deferred Maintenance.

By Rebecca Martin

There is no shortage of public warnings about the danger of carbon monoxide in news outlets across the country. Safety officials and first response agencies urge public awareness during periods of cold weather or severe weather conditions. The distribution of free or low-cost carbon monoxide detectors has increased in an effort to diminish the number of carbon monoxide incidents across the country. One would assume that we, as a nation, are on a trajectory to address the problem of carbon monoxide through public awareness and outreach.

Increased carbon monoxide poisonings

Despite many new regulations, studies are still showing increased carbon monoxide poisonings. The cost of and ignorance of the critical importance of furnace maintenance is a big factor.

It comes as a surprise, then, that statistics are not reflecting the impact of public awareness campaigns. What studies are showing is increased carbon monoxide poisonings.

In 2023, a report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that deaths from carbon monoxide poisonings are increasing.

The report looked at reported deaths from consumer product-related deaths during the period between 2009 through 2019 and found more deaths occurred in 2019 than previous years. The majority of deaths during this period were related to generators and other engine-driven tools.

“Since 2009, portable generators alone have been associated with 765 CO-poisoning deaths not related to fires. That’s 40% of all CO deaths related to consumer products, a CPSC news release noted.”

UGI Utilities, headquartered in Pennsylvania, issued a statement this month after responding to numerous emergencies in their service area. Heating equipment issues and the unsafe running or vehicles or equipment in enclosed areas were the main causes.

A recent article from the UK indicates a finding of a 37% increase in confirmed and suspected cases of carbon monoxide poisonings between 2021 to the present.

The UK article opines that this substantial increase in incidents may be tied to the increased cost of living with customers deferring the necessary maintenance of furnaces and other fuel-burning devices. While the UK is experiencing a more dramatic increase in the cost of living in recent years, it is still on average 12.4 percent lower than in the US.,lower%20than%20in%20United%20States.

The cost of basic annual furnace maintenance in the US is $100-$500, with gas furnaces being at the higher end of maintenance costs. While HVAC companies recommend that service be scheduled in early Fall during non-peak periods, many people are oblivious to their furnaces until the cold weather hits and the furnace is turned on for the first time. That deference in maintenance coincides with higher utility costs and the increased burden on the household budget.

Lower Temperatures Account for most Non-Fatal CO Poisonings

Although carbon monoxide poisonings occur throughout the year, the colder temperatures in winter bring about the highest number of incidents every year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports carbon monoxide poisoning occurs more often in the winter when people are using gas furnaces and heaters.”

The increased risk comes into play with the onset of colder weather when furnaces are turned on and the subsequent fluctuations in temperature throughout the winter have little effect. Once a neglected furnace turns on, the count down starts. The increased danger during more extreme temperatures occurs mostly during power outages when generators may be in use or vehicles left running in garages.

Why Carbon Monoxide Alarms Don’t Eliminate All Risk

Carbon monoxide detectors absolutely decrease the risk. While they can’t make up for deferred furnace maintenance or the improper use of portable generators during the winter, they are absolutely the first line of defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. Proper placement, maintenance, and use of carbon monoxide detectors in the home is a fundamental warning system which should be present in all residences.

Why are CO Detectors More Important than ever

Carbon monoxide detectors are more important than ever because rising furnace maintenance and replacement costs in conjunction with increasing severe weather due to global conditions, leaves an increasing shortfall in preventive maintenance. Weather experts worldwide are projecting that we will be experiencing a higher incidence of severe weather and potential outages than in previous years.

What Help is Available for Furnace Safety Precautions?

There are some government programs which can assist low-income families with their energy needs.

“Known as Assurance One, Section 2605(b)(1)(C) states LIHEAP funding can be used to “provide low-cost residential weatherization and other cost-effective energy-related home repair….”

There are also many community outreach programs available in most states across the country. Utility providers, HVAC companies and Low Energy Assistance Programs are some of the resources to explore for help with repair or replacement of furnaces.

Can homeowners perform their own maintenance?

All furnace manufacturers recommend annual maintenance performed by a qualified HVAC technician. First, performing DIY repairs or maintenance will void any warranties.

An annual inspection of the furnace will also increase the lifespan of the furnace and delay the ultimate replacement costs.

A thorough furnace inspection includes so many components that any homeowner knowledgeable enough to perform all the tasks is likely a heating contractor. A proper furnace inspection checks everything from venting to a thorough inspection of all the furnace mechanisms, to a wiring check. These skills are usually not the scope of the average homeowner.

Are there precautions a homeowner can take to guarantee the safe operation of a furnace?

According to Angi’s List, there are several things an owner can do to make your furnace operation safer.

You can make sure you have a safe zone around your furnace and make sure the area is clear and easily accessible. You can make sure the furnace is dust free, check that the flame is burning properly and blue in color, and check with your HVAC technician on other methods of keeping your furnace clean and maintained monthly. You can replace your furnace filter no less than every three months.

Throughout your home you can make sure that vents are not blocked and that at least 80% of your vents are open during furnace operation.

You should be aware of warning signs associated with a malfunctioning furnace.

  • You smell gas.
  • Hot or burning smell.
  • The home doesn’t heat when the furnace is running.
  • The heater turns on and off too often.
  • The fan sounds like it’s running all the time.
  • Your thermostat isn’t functioning properly.
  • The pilot light is burning yellow, or it won’t stay li

If your furnace is located in a small, enclosed utility room, it is highly recommended that  air vents be installed to provide adequate air flow for the furnace’s proper operation.

Carbon monoxide detectors are still the best warning system

And, of course, that same consideration needs to be taken to have properly installed, maintained and functioning carbon monoxide detectors. Check with the manufacturer’s instructions on what the different alert sounds are for warnings, battery replacement, and end of usable life and never disable an alarm without addressing the reason it sounded. There is a video which explains the sounds that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors make at which is worth the time to watch and understand what the chirps and alerts sound like.

Spring can Have Increased Carbon Monoxide Poisonings, too

The end of winter is in sight, but Spring brings its own severe weather. HVAC professionals also suggest that Air Conditioning system checks are scheduled in early spring to avoid the peak busy season. And while home maintenance may seem the one thing it is ok to procrastinate on, it is absolutely a priority. There is nothing that is more important than your safety or the safety of your family. Thousands of people across the country find themselves in emergency rooms every year due to carbon monoxide poisoning and even “minor” cases can have a long reaching impact on health and function. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable of our population and the most likely to succumb to carbon monoxide.

Deferring home maintenance may seem tempting, but waiting until the situation ends with a visit to the emergency room or, in some instances, the loss of a family member, is a cost none of us wants.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *