Cold temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s produced any time a material is burned. If the 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 in carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is comparatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, illustrating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may create a blockage and trigger 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 put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These devices 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 correctly: As you consider possible locations, remember that your home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You should hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't work as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace 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 often as the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
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 problems that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
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 encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.