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Carbon Monoxide Detectors Can Be a Good Idea

We have been reading a lot about carbon monoxide detectors. Are they a worthwhile item for my home?

Under certain conditions, yes they are worth making a part of your home.

This is usually a question we get only in the winter, when the air turns nippy and there are reports of illnesses or death from carbon monoxide poisoning. But now is the time to prepare for the cool months.

From 1979-88, a study was conducted by Center for Disease Control to determine the number of injuries and deaths from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. This study revealed a total of 11,547 classed as accidental deaths due to faulty appliances. Carbon monoxide detectors will alert you to a problem and for that reason, they make sense.

Numbers aside, what does it all mean? Appliances fueled by natural gas or propane have the potential to cause varying degrees of CO poisoning. A loose vent pipe on a furnace or a water heater, an improperly adjusted flame, these are things that usually go unnoticed. When was the last time you checked yours?

The blocked flue, the unvented appliance, along with the lack of proper combustion air to these units is also unnoticed. How many of you have purchased kerosene heaters? They're not legal for heating homes in San Diego, but aside from the legality, these unvented heaters can be dangerous -- and killers.

Most of these problems occur in the winter months. Here in our delightful climate, we, too, see some of these problems.

How can we deal with this very serious matter? The answer is, educating ourselves to the early warning systems and understanding what is happening.

CO poisoning has flu-like symptoms (nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and confusion) that disappear when you leave the building. But don't think the problem has gone away... even though you feel better you may still be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

As for symptoms on the equipment, if you see soot around your appliance's fire box, or rust on the vent pipes, this is a warning. Even if there is no soot or rust, check out the flame. The pilot and burner flames should be a clear blue, although flecks of orange are normal. If the flame is a soft yellow, the appliance is probably producing carbon monoxide.

So much for the bad news. Lets get on to common sense. The best first choice for help is San Diego Gas & Electric at (619) 696-3443 (or your local utility if you live outside the San Diego area).

Their experts will check your appliance and if it is not working properly or in bad condition, they'll adjust it or advise you on what to do. In some instances they may shut the faulty appliance off.

And this is their "slow" season, so you should be able to get someone right out to your house. They get thousands of calls like this when the weather turns cold; there can be delays.

Don't second-guess the experts from SDG&E, get a licensed and trained professional to repair or replace the defective appliance.

Your next best choice for help is a licensed plumbing contractor. The average home handy person is not qualified to deal with these problems.

Of course, we at the Development Services Department can also help. Give us a ring at (858) 492-5070 (or your local building department if you live outside the City of San Diego).

In short, use common sense. Properly installed gas appliances are safe but they do require some maintenance. Play it safe and don't use unvented appliances in your home.