Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that you don’t expect to encounter when traveling the great outdoors. However, some of your RV appliances emit carbon monoxide which can be dangerous to your health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to reduce your exposure while enjoying your RV.
Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is created when any fuel is burned such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, wood, and coal. It is extremely serious when combustion by-products are not vented outside. Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States each year in homes and RVs. It is important to identify the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and to know how you can prevent it from leaking in your RV.
Some of these risks are located inside your RV but many surround your RV at camp. Be mindful of things that emit carbon monoxide not only in your RV but around it. Including your neighbors’ equipment! The first rule in how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV is to be aware of the sources of carbon dioxide.
In RVs, carbon monoxide gas usually results from:
- Exhaust leaks from either a vehicle engine or a generator
- Improper use of portable gas-powered heaters
- Someone else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close quarters
How to detect carbon monoxide in your RV? You can’t. Humans cannot detect carbon monoxide. It is odorless and colorless, which is why it’s called the quiet killer. We must rely on sensors to detect carbon monoxide.
If your RV is not already outfitted with a carbon monoxide detector, you must install one right away. It can save your life. These are as essential as smoke detectors. You can purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector designed for use in RVs.
Make sure you test the detector every time you use the RV and replace the carbon monoxide detector batteries at least once a year. A good time to do this is when you change clocks for daylight savings time or at the beginning of a new camping season.
If the detector senses an unsafe amount of carbon monoxide, it will sound the alarm. The alarm is much louder than the beep that warns of a low battery.
Though humans can’t detect carbon monoxide, we certainly show symptoms of it. If you are aware of these symptoms, you can realize there’s a serious problem more quickly. Besides the detector, the symptoms are another way to detect carbon monoxide in your RV. These symptoms progress fast—Do not try to “shake them off”!
The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include:
- Muscular twitching
- Intense headache
- Throbbing in the temples
- Weakness and sleepiness
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
And don’t forget about your pets! Despite their superior sense of smell, dogs and other pets cannot detect carbon monoxide either. They will be affected much more quickly than humans due to their smaller size.
If you or anyone else experiences any of these, get to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist you need to seek medical attention. Shut off the vehicle or power the generator down and do not operate it until it has been inspected and repaired by a professional.
Exposure to carbon monoxide is a huge health hazard and can cause death. It is important to stay vigilant and to be aware of the risk at all times. Take precautions and follow these prevention tips to reduce exposure and keep you and your family safe:
- Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly
- Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances usually indicate a lack of oxygen and should be checked by a qualified technician
- Park your RV so that the exhaust may easily dissipate away from the vehicle
- Never sleep with a generator running
- Always have a window open when operating a gas-burning appliance or generator
- Keep any windows and vents closed if in close proximity to a running vehicle or generator
- Never use range burners or ovens to heat your RV
- When cooking with the range, use the range fan and keep a nearby window cracked open
- Be aware of your neighbor’s setup and make sure they are not directing any exhaust your way
Follow all directions and warnings if using gas-powered heaters.
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Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!