Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s released every time a material burns. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, many people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear 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 operate combustion appliances in or close to 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 based on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you think about the best locations, don't forget that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You will hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not function as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A yearly 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.
- Search for any problems that might cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating 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 help provide a safe, comfortable 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.