Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, many people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a confined space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you think about the best locations, don't forget that a home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance 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 regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have 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 begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not performing as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Air Engineers Service Experts includes the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any troubling concerns that may cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Air Engineers Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Air Engineers Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Air Engineers Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.