Cold temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s released every 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 exposure. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, illustrating the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of 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 transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors 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 potential locations, don't forget that your home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near each 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 your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are working like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You should hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you could 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 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. Get in touch with your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.