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How To Heat Your Home Safely This Winter

They call it the silent or invisible killer: It’s odorless and colorless, and it takes more than 150 American lives each year.

Faulty heating systems are a leading cause of non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Before you turn on your furnace this winter, take some time to make sure you can heat your home safely.

Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Ed Mann says carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t always happen all at once.

“Carbon monoxide attaches itself to your bloodstream,” Mann said. “Over a period of time you could actually accumulate enough carbon monoxide to make you ill.”

Symptoms are flu-like, including nausea, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath and confusion.

“They call it the silent killer for a reason,” Mann said. “You can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, it’s colorless, and without carbon monoxide detectors in your home, it will not be detected.”

Pat Cray is the owner of Southside Electric, Heating, & Cooling, and he said installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home is incredibly important.

“That’s your first line of defense,” Cray said. “Make sure the batteries are fresh and it’s in good working condition, and test it every month.”

Mann recommends having more than one detector in your home, and placing them close to where leaks are most likely to occur.

“I have one outside of where my furnace is at in my basement,” he said. “I also have a small gas fireplace in my family room in my basement, and I have two near there. I also have carbon monoxide detectors outside each of the sleeping areas in my home.”

Homeowners should also have furnaces, heaters, boilers, and chimneys inspected by licensed professionals each year.

Pat Cray said most Pittsburghers tend to use a natural gas forced air furnace to keep warm in the winter. Because of the way these furnaces work, just a small crack in the heat exchanger, where the gas is burned, can create a big hazard.

“If there’s any kind of crack in there … it’s going to pull that carbon monoxide gas, which is colorless and odorless, from that combustion chamber and it’s going to distribute that through your home,” said Cray.

Inspectors will also change filters and look for ventilation blockages.

Inspections can cost anywhere from $50-150, but Mann said it’s a worthwhile investment.

“At the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay to make sure your family and your home is safe,” he said.