Winter temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created any time a material burns. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering 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 comparatively minimal. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you leave home, suggesting the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed 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.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could produce 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 around 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 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, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every 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 the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You ought to hear two brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with 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 as often as the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any troubling concerns that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you could benefit from setting up 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 stop leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote 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 request heating services.