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Wood Fireplaces Are the Most Dangerous Producers of CO Poisoning

Updated: 11/21/2013 7:14 AM
Created: 11/20/2013 4:13 PM KSTP.com
By: Beth McDonough

It's not just your furnace, or your garage, that could put you at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Your wood fireplace could make you sick. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year. On average, 14 of the deaths occur in Minnesota.

Ron Staeheli of Eagan survived. But he now realizes everyone is at risk, "I had a headache and a little nausea throughout the night."

Staeheli believes a carbon monoxide detector saved his life last year. He was sleeping when a warning sound clued him into the invisible and poisonous fumes invading his Eagan home, "what it proves is it can happen anywhere."

Even in the house of a professional home inspector. Staeheli and his son run the business. They're trained to spot safety hazards, especially CO producers, "the most dangerous by far is a wood burning fireplace."

That's because of the potential for back draft, when the air flow goes down the chimney and fumes seep through the home, not up and out as they should.

Deputy Chief JR Klepp of the Minneapolis Fire Department says, "it's a concern because CO also has the same weight as air so depending on the temperature the CO can migrate high or low in your house."

Staeheli's goes on to say, "when that flame dies down and coal embers are crackling and the red flame glow happens at the bottom, fireplaces basically become carbon monoxide factories."

That's why wood is out, only candles flicker in Staeheli's fireplace now.  State fire experts tell us carbon monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning sickness. There have been 207 incidents reported this year, 1,357 over five years.

State law requires homeowners to have a CO detector within 10 feet of each bedroom, but it doesn't specify whether it should be placed low to the ground or high. Staeheli says do "both", to be safe, like he did.

Wood burning fireplaces aren't the only source of CO danger in your home. Household appliances like boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, and open fires that use gas, oil, coal and wood could all be sources of CO gas.  If those appliances are well serviced and used safely, they shouldn't produce enough CO to hurt you. 


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