Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every 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, meaning that it’s produced every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is relatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, many people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or small camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can produce 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 close to your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you think about potential locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance 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 suggest monthly testing to make sure 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 begin and let go of the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't work as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release 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 Stevenson Service Experts includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any troubling concerns that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Review 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 Stevenson Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Stevenson Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Stevenson Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.