Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is fairly modest. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, suggesting the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 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 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 run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These alarms 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 the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers encourage 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 begin and let go of the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices with 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 recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly 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 includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed 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 help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.