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Carbon monoxide a silent threat worth paying attention to during cold snap

With temperatures in western Canada expected to dip below -30 C this week, experts are advising people turn some attention to the appliance that will keep their home warm: their furnace.

“The easiest and least expensive thing you can do is make sure your filters are changed,” Pete “the Plumber” Archdekin said.

Archdekin said a new filter every month helps reduced the demand on the furnace when it’s under its highest workload.

He said his technicians have been “swamped” doing furnace maintenance calls ahead of the cold weather.

Archdekin said in addition to changing the filter, homeowners should also be checking the outside vent from their furnace, to make sure there’s no snow, debris or other blockage in the vent.

Click to play video: 'Winter furnace check-up'

Winter furnace check-up

“Make sure these are clear. Stick your hand up them. There’s nothing that can hurt you. They’re not too hot,” he said. “Once they get restricted, your furnace will just turn off because it’s a safety device in them.”

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Another safety concern that can come from furnaces that are “working double time” once the mercury dips below -20 C is carbon monoxide.

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Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless gas. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Breathing in too much CO can cause loss of unconsciousness, coma or even death.

Nearly two-thirds of CO-related incidents in Canada in the past 12 years came during cold weather months. According to Health Canada, CO poisoning is responsible for 300 deaths and 200 hospitalizations a year.

Click to play video: 'Fire department reminds Calgarians to be safe with carbon monoxide following poisonings'

Fire department reminds Calgarians to be safe with carbon monoxide following poisonings

The top three product categories that produce CO poisoning in Canada are kitchen appliances, heating and cooling appliances, and generators.

“All the gas burning appliances. The risk is that if they haven’t been maintained properly or there’s an issue, you can have carbon monoxide coming from those appliances,” Carol Henke, public information officer with the Calgary Fire Department, said.

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“The only way you will know it’s there is with a working carbon monoxide alarm.”

Archdekin recommended having multiple carbon monoxide detectors in the home, near bedrooms.

Henke recommended changing their batteries annually and monthly testing of their function.

Click to play video: '3 members of Calgary family sent to hospital after carbon monoxide poisoning'

3 members of Calgary family sent to hospital after carbon monoxide poisoning

“Approximately 85 to 90 per cent of our carbon monoxide calls that crews attend are related to carbon monoxide alarms that have either expired or the battery needs to be replaced. So making sure that you’re familiar with your alarm is really important,” Henke said.

Another possible source of CO poisoning is running a car in an enclosed garage.

“Always pull your vehicle out and leave it running outside if you want to warm it up, but of course keep it locked as well because theft is another big issue in the cold weather with running vehicles that are left unattended,” Henke said.

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Police services across Alberta recently launched their annual Operation Cold Start campaign, to prevent the theft of vehicles left idling with their keys inside.

More on Calgary

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