Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s produced every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is relatively modest. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms mimic the flu, many people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you aren't home, indicating the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 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 clear of debris that can lead to a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you consider the best locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near each sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are working 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 brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't work as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out 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, 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 frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Calverley Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Calverley Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Calverley Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Calverley Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.