Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s produced each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is comparatively low. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, many people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, suggesting the source might be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Don't run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a confined space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using 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 cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you review possible locations, remember that your home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach 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.
- Test your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not work as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use 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 whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the system is installed improperly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Golden Seal Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Golden Seal Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Golden Seal Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Golden Seal Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.