Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released each time a material burns. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, illustrating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space like a basement or garage, regardless 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 could lead to a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should add 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 securely: As you review the best locations, don't forget that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and let go of the button. You should hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not function as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the equipment 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 consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed 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 encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.