Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s released any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is relatively modest. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, many people don’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, illustrating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an indoor space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may 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 near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider potential locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You will hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
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 troubling concerns that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you might benefit from putting in 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 sprung 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, warm 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.