Cold temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s created any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is relatively low. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, indicating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Don't leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space like a basement or garage, regardless of 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 small camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may lead to a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you review possible locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning correctly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any troubling concerns that could cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling 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 stop leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable 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.