Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down 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 result of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s created every time a material burns. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, suggesting the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Don't run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These detectors 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 possible locations, remember that a home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working properly. Simply 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 brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as anticipated, replace 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 with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if 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
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not performing 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 offers the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable 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.