Winter temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year because of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s created any time a material burns. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur progressively if the concentration is relatively modest. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you review potential locations, don't forget that a home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating like they should. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't work as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not performing as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any troubling concerns that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.