Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s produced every time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. 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, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, illustrating the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
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 alert you of CO emissions. These alarms 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 properly: As you review possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating correctly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace 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 frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Strogen's Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Strogen's Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Strogen's Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Strogen's Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.