Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each 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 every time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from consuming oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm 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 happen slowly if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an enclosed space such as 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.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may produce a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. 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 consider potential locations, remember that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating correctly. Simply 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 quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not 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 with a backup battery, change out 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 frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly 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 includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment 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, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.