Winter temperatures encourage 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. end up in the emergency room each year because of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created each time a material burns. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you leave the house, illustrating the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could create a blockage and cause 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 alert you of CO leaks. These devices 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 correctly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and near 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 regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You should hear two short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not work as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices using 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 often as the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Neal Harris Service Experts offers the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any troubling concerns that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you might 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 Neal Harris Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Neal Harris Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Neal Harris Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.