Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s created any time a material burns. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, many people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, no matter 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 while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These alarms 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 think about possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every 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 your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure 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 sound and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as it's supposed to, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with 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 whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed incorrectly or not running 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 Strand Brothers Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that may cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Strand Brothers Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Strand Brothers Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Strand Brothers Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.