Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 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 incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur progressively if the concentration is fairly modest. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove inside 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 around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider the best locations, remember that your home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning correctly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You should hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Teays Valley Service Experts consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Teays Valley Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Teays Valley Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Teays Valley Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.