Cold temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created any time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, illustrating 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 poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could create a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review potential locations, don't forget that a home needs CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and near 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 put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You will hear two brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not work as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional areas where you would most benefit from setting up 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 encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.