Icy temperatures drive homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms mimic the flu, many people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, illustrating the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, regardless of 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 portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO gas. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near any sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating 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 should hear two short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't work as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Strand Brothers Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Strand Brothers Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Strand Brothers Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Strand Brothers Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.