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How To Avoid Carbon Monoxide Danger At Cottage


Cool Weather Begins

As Summer fades away to a distant memory and Autumn arrives, followed by winter, many of us still continue to go to our camps and cottages, sometimes all year round. Of course in northern climates, winter at the camp is a little different than summer at the camp. One thing is the need make heat in one way or another to stay warm inside our camps. Many of us have wood stoves, gas stoves and kerosene space heaters in our cottages for cool fall evenings and cold winter evenings.

Fuel Burning Devices Danger

These fuel burning appliances may pose no problem in milder temps when you may have a window open allowing fresh air in, but in winter, it’s not uncommon to have all the windows and doors closed tightly. It’s particularly notable in newer cottage construction where a lot of emphasis has been placed on building the place to be very energy efficient and easy to heat. There isn’t much air from outside coming into new homes and cottages unless it is equipped with an air exchanger.

At certain times of year, keeping warm at the cottage usually requires some kind of flame or fire and that comes with an inherent danger, of fire, smoke inhalation, or, more often than you might imagine, carbon monoxide is, a silent, deadly situation that has cost many lives. We’ve all heard of carbon monoxide, but what is carbon monoxide?

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless toxic gas. You cannot smell or taste carbon monoxide and that…is the problem. It can cause harm without you knowing what happened. In fact, exposure to too much carbon monoxide can kill you.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Danger

Symptoms of the affects of carbon monoxide can be subtle and not quickly attributed to carbon monoxide, and symptoms can vary depending on the level of carbon monoxide you are exposed to. Some examples are fatigue, chest pain, impaired vision and coordination, headache, dizziness, confusion and nausea. These symptoms may disappear after you leave the camp or area where the carbon monoxide is located. Carbon Monoxide produces carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, that reduces your ability to take in oxygen, and you know what happens without oxygen…you get to go for a ride in the long black cadillac…..

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

There are many sources of carbon monoxide, and unfortunately, several of those sources are things that cottagers and campers are exposed to on a regular basis. I am talking about heat sources such as unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, chimneys and furnaces, gas water heaters, and, of special importance to camp and cottage users, wood stoves, fireplaces, gas stoves, gas generators and other gasoline powered equipment. All kinds of things used by campers and cottagers.

Carbon Monoxide Is Odorless and Silent Killer

Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? It seems like every year we hear a news report of a couple of hunters in a camp or tent being exposed to carbon monoxide. In many of those tragedies, the victims have fallen asleep and don’t wake up. Remember, carbon monoxide is odorless and silent. A group of fellows out for the first weekend of deer season light a fire in a woodstove to keep their camp warm. They turn in for bed, the woodstove leaks carbon monoxide into the room and nobody wakes up. Sad but true, especially with old woodstoves and gas space heaters etc, anything that burns fuel for heat.

This is not something to take lightly. At home as well as at the camp. Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector such as this First Alert CO615 Carbon Monoxide Plug-In Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display along with smoke detectors, and so should camps. But how often do we find those detectors unplugged because steam from the shower or cooking sets them off. They get unplugged or shut off and nobody remembers to plug it back in. At camps, left empty half the year, the batteries lose power over the winter and nobody remembers to put fresh batteries in the detector, etc etc.

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide

But all is not lost, there are some things you can do to avoid or at least lessen the chances of suffering an untimely fate from carbon monoxide at the camp.

* Keep all your gas appliances properly serviced and regularly checked.
* Use a vented space heater, not an unvented space heater.
* Only use fuel designed specifically for kerosene space heaters.
* Have an exhaust fan vented to outside over gas stoves. And remember to use it.
* Open fireplace flues when the fire is burning, do not close it to try and slow the fire and get more heat.
* Make sure that the chimneys for all woodstove and other appliances are clean and clear of obstructions.
* Only use woodstoves that are installed and certified to meet emmisson standards.
* Have your wood stove installation approved by a certified WETT technician. For more info about WETT-Wood Energy Technology Transfer Inc What is WETT?
* Have your central heating system, furnace, flues, chimneys inspected by a trained professional each year.
* If your cottage or home has a garage, don’t idle a vehicle inside, or run gas powered equipment inside, such as chainsaws,
lawn mowers, gas generators etc.

Along with a carbon monoxide detector, we always keep at least one window open at the camp when we have the woodstove burning. Usually a couple of windows open a couple of inches, even in the coldest of weather. I would rather lose a little heat through the open window than my life from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide and Camping

All the above is important if you are staying inside a building, but what about a tent, travel trailer, or motor home? The same rules apply although obviously you won’t likely have a place to plug a detector into a tent. You can purchase a portable battery operated carbon monoxide detector such as this First Alert CO400 Battery Powered Carbon Monoxide Alarm for peace of mind when camping.

For safety sake, never burn anything inside a tent, including small gas heaters. Also ensure your campfire is positioned far from your tent, and extinquish it fully before turning in. Remember charcoal barbecues also create carbon monoxide, so a smoldering barbecue should be extinquished before you turn in for the night. And again, no burning anything inside a tent, tent trailer or RV.

For More Information:

What Is WETT?
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Health Canada-Carbon Monoxide
CMHC Carbon Monoxide

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2 thoughts on “How To Avoid Carbon Monoxide Danger At Cottage”

  1. It’s difficult because the poisoned gas is colourless and tasteless. That’s why whenever there’s a problem with a boiler it is a good idea to call an engineer just in case its more serious than you think.

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