Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, which means it’s produced each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is relatively low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable 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 close to your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you review possible locations, don't forget that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and close to 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 install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You will hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty 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.
- Look for any malfunctions that might cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you would most benefit from installing 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 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 promote a safe, comfortable 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 schedule heating services.