When most people think of carbon monoxide poisoning, they think of gas leaks and flaws in furnaces. However, if you have a wood burning stove in your home, you need to be aware that it can also pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if it's not maintained and ventilated properly.

What are the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

When you inhale carbon monoxide, it takes the place of oxygen on your red blood cells, meaning that your body's tissues do not get the oxygen they need to thrive. This causes a range of symptoms including dizziness, weakness, chest pain and vomiting. The symptoms often get better when a person is away from home during the day, but return when he or she comes home. Since some people with carbon monoxide poisoning mistakenly think they have the flu, they may stay inside their homes all day, making the problem even worse.

Unfortunately, some people don't even realize anything is wrong before carbon monoxide poisoning kills them. If concentrations of carbon monoxide are high enough, death can occur within a few short hours.

How can owners of wood burning stoves protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning?

Whether you use your wood burning stove as a primary heating source or only light a fire occasionally, it's important to follow these tips:

Have your chimney cleaned regularly. A buildup of ashes or creosote in your chimney may prevent the smoke, which contains carbon monoxide, from escaping properly. Always have your chimney cleaned by a professional, as he or she is specifically trained to look for leaks and damage that could cause smoke and carbon monoxide to funnel into your home. For more information, contact a business such as Steve's Masonry Service.

Don't burn wet or unseasoned logs. These generally smoke much more than well-aged wood. The bountiful smoke may not escape properly through the chimney, instead collecting in your home where it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Install a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible. The only way to know for sure whether it is present in your home is to install a carbon monoxide detector. Place it in the same room as your wood burning stove, so you'll know immediately if you have a problem. It it does detect carbon monoxide, put your fire out and have your chimney checked over by a professional before lighting it again.

A wood burning stove can add warmth and ambiance to your home, but you do have to be wary of carbon monoxide poisoning. Follow the tips above, and you and your family members should be safe.