Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created 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. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. 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 overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly modest. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, suggesting the source could be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system 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.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you think about potential locations, don't forget that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You will hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap 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
Many appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release 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 faulty before a leak develops.
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 could lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating 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 stop leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable 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.