Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit 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 byproduct of incomplete combustion, which means it’s created each time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source could be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. 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 possible locations, don't forget that your home does best with CO alarms on every 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 consistently: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating correctly. You can 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 brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, 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, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed improperly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Coastal Service Experts includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any troubling concerns that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Coastal Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Coastal Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Coastal Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.