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Check gas heaters to avoid carbon monoxide

Updated May 16, 2011

When the temperature drops during the winter months, it's tempting to reach for the thermostat. But before you do, be sure your natural gas heater is vented and working properly.

A malfunctioning heater — or any other appliance fueled by natural gas or propane — can produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly when inhaled. The first signs of poisoning are headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, an upset stomach and confusion.

To avoid danger, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that homeowners have their heaters inspected by a professional each year. To find a qualified inspector, check the yellow pages under "Heating Contractors." Water heaters and furnaces should be checked for proper vent pipe connections and a correctly adjusted flame. Heaters should be vented properly, with their vents clear of any obstructions, rust or corrosion.

Products of combustion detectors (otherwise known as smoke detectors) will alert you if an appliance is leaking carbon monoxide. Other warning signs include soot around an appliance's fire box, rust on the vent pipes, or a soft yellow pilot flame. The pilot and burner flames should be a clear blue color, with some flecks of orange.

For more information, you may also call the Southern California Gas Company at (800) 427-2200.

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