Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, which means it’s produced each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any 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 inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is relatively low. The most frequent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a confined space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 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 clear of debris that can lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO leaks. These alarms 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 properly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You should hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't function as it's supposed to, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, swap out 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.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not running as it should. A yearly 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:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional areas where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung 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 promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.