With a sunny Feb. 2 — and the accompanying groundhog’s shadow — having heralded six more weeks of winter, it’s entirely possible this year’s considerable snow and cold will continue. And, if it does, homeowners are advised to keep in mind the risks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
During the ice storm-induced electricity black-out in the Toronto area in late December, two Newcastle residents died from CO poisoning after a gas-powered generator was put into operation inside the garage of the family home. There were other near-misses during the black-out, as people — in the plummeting temperatures that followed the storm — resorted to appliances like barbecues for indoor warmth or cooking.
It’s not just during power outages, however, that people should be wary of CO. In today’s homes, with their airtight construction to keep heat in and cold out, it’s an ever-present risk — a fact that became all-to-apparent back in 2008 when former St. Marys Jr. B Lincoln Richard Hawkins and his family were killed in their Woodstock home; and in the years since as Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman fought for and eventually achieved provincial legislation requiring CO detectors in all homes.
The nuts-and-bolts details of that Private Member’s Bill, finally approved late in 2013, have not yet filtered down to fire departments or building code enforcement officers in Ontario’s municipalities. In an interview earlier this week, St. Marys Fire Chief Dennis Brownlee noted that information will be disseminated to homeowners about what exactly is required once the details are known.
For now, he stresses simply that people should have a CO detector in their home. The most important location within the home is near bedroom areas, where the signal will definitely be heard if the home’s occupants are sleeping.
Brownlee notes one of the biggest issues at this time of year — and during a winter like the one we’ve been having — is the accumulation of snow between buildings or along the side of buildings. Unlike in the past, when venting for furnaces or fireplaces was provided by a vertical chimney, today’s heating appliances are typically vented low to the ground. And if blowing snow piles up against the vents, there’s no way for the furnace’s gaseous byproducts to escape.
His advice? Know where your vents are; and be aware of possible snow build-up.
Brownlee also reminds homeowners that, even though many CO detectors are wired into the home’s electrical system, some models also have back-up battery power in the event of a black-out. And those batteries — even if no black-outs occur — must eventually be changed. To avoid trouble, test the batteries regularly, and change them when required.
Meanwhile, it’s now February. The sign in the window at Hearn’s Ice Cream says “See you in March.” So, even though it might not feel like it, spring is coming.