Winter temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s created any time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. 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 correctly: As you think about possible locations, remember that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure 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 start and release the button. You will hear two short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices using a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when 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
Several appliances, including 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 appears.
A precision tune-up from Climate Control Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Climate Control Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Climate Control Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Climate Control Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.