Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s produced any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is relatively low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, indicating the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review potential locations, remember that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, change out 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 whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.