Icy temperatures drive homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room annually due to 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 every time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is fairly low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, suggesting the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Don't leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined 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 small camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to 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 place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. 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 quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out 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
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed incorrectly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Roland J. Down Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Roland J. Down Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Roland J. Down Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Roland J. Down Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.