Cold temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced every time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is comparatively low. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms resemble the flu, many people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a confined space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
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 install carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you review potential locations, don't forget that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating like they should. Simply 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 brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use 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 often as the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any troubling concerns that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and efficiency.
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 encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.