Icy temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released every time a material burns. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen slowly if the concentration is comparatively low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people don’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, illustrating the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space like a basement or garage, irrespective of 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 transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. 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 consider possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near each 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 a wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices using a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed improperly or not working 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 offers the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that might cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning 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. Get in touch with your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.