Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and raise the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s released any time a material burns. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, depriving 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 prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is relatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, many people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, illustrating the source could be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top 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.
- Don't 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 may 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 while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
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 alert you of CO leaks. 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 securely: As you think about the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near each sleeping area and near 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 install your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You should hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have 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.
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 running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment 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 stop leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.