Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, which means it’s released every time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot 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 can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, suggesting the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device 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.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could create a blockage and encourage 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 install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO gas. These alarms 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 correctly: As you think about possible locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You will hear two brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change 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 as frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not running as it should. A once-a-year 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.
- Search for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning 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 prevent 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. Contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.