Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced any time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you aren't home, illustrating the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
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 install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance 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.
- Check your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You will hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap 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.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Stevenson Service Experts offers the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional areas 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 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 encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Stevenson Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.