Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room annually as a result of 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 each time a material burns. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, 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 a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO gas. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you think about possible locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and near 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 on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices using 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 frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly 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 includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling 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. Call your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.