Cabin fever is taking hold across a huge chunk of the country these days.

In communities such as mine, where plowing is what you do to the north 40 in early spring and salt is shaken only on food, confinement because of icy streets and sidewalks can be prolonged. And long-term confinement increases exposure to many household dangers, especially carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas produced when any carbon-based fuel is burned. Quoting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deborah Hanson of alarm maker First Alert says carbon monoxide poisoning “puts more than 20,000 people in the hospital and is responsible for nearly 450 deaths every year.”

Yet warnings often go unheeded. In the aftermath of natural disasters, homeowners still use propane grills and gas generators in confined places, despite recommendations not to. And they die.

So what do you do?

An alarm is the only way to detect the odorless poisonous gas. The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home, including the basement, and one near every sleeping area.


But an alarm can only warn. You need to correct the problem.

Joe Ponessa, a Rutgers emeritus professor, recommends regular inspection and maintenance of all fuel-burning appliances, including stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and dryers by a qualified technician. Metal flues and heat exchangers should be inspected for signs of rust or cracking.

Follow the recommendations in owners’ manuals to ensure proper appliance use. Gas ranges, ovens, and clothes dryers are not intended to be used to heat the home. Do not use barbecue grills or construction space heaters indoors.

Garages and workshops are indoor enclosed spaces where combustion gases can accumulate.

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