Carbon monoxide gas is invisible, odorless, and deadly. It is a threat to RVers so it is important to know the signs to watch for and to practice preventative actions to reduce your exposure. 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.
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.
- You need to have a carbon monoxide detector for your RV if you do not already have one. These are as essential as smoke detectors in the home. You can purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector designed for use in RV’s. Make sure you test the detector every time you use the RV and replace the carbon monoxide detector batteries twice a year. The best time to do this is when you change clocks for daylight savings time.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include:
- Muscular twitching
- Intense headache
- Throbbing in the temples
- Weakness and sleepiness
- Inability to think coherently
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. These are the typical causes of carbon monoxide gas.
Tips you can Follow to Reduce Carbon Monoxide Exposure
- Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly. Ideally, you want to do this before each outing and after bottoming out or any other incident that could cause damage.
- Inspect the RV for openings in the floor or sidewalls. If you locate a hole, seal it with a silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again.
- Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips to ensure that they are sealing properly. Again, this needs to be done regularly.
- Do not operate your generator if the exhaust system is damaged in any way or if an unusual noise is present.
- Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances such as coach heaters, stoves, ovens, and water heaters usually indicate a lack of oxygen. If you notice this, determine the cause of this condition and correct it immediately.
- If you have a built-in vacuum cleaner, check it regularly to make sure it does not exhaust under the underside of your RV. Has the system changed if it does.
- Park your RV so that the exhaust may easily dissipate away from the vehicle. Do not park next to high grass or weeds, snowbanks, buildings, or other obstructions that might prevent exhaust gases from dissipating as they should.
- Remember that shifting winds may cause exhaust to blow away from the coach one moment and under the coach the next.
- Never sleep with a generator running.
- When the generator is running, always have a window or door open, even during the winter.
- When stopping for long periods of time, be aware of other vehicles around you, such as tractor-trailers at rest stops. They may have their engines and refrigerators running and this can cause you to be exposed to carbon monoxide.
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 keep you and your family safe.