Icy temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created each 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 exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you leave home, indicating the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor 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 may produce a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you consider the best locations, don't forget that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away 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.
- Check your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You will hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't work as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices using a backup battery, change out 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 recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed improperly or not running as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you could benefit from putting in 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 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, warm 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.