Winter temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s produced any 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 susceptible to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could create a blockage and encourage 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 alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review possible locations, remember that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any 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 your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning correctly. Simply 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, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't function as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap 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 whenever 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 improperly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that may cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent 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. Call your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.