Icy temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year because of accidental 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 the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, many people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, suggesting the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space like 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.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce 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 put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you review possible locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near each 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.
- Review your detectors consistently: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You ought to hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Bob Brown Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any troubling concerns that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Bob Brown Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Bob Brown Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Bob Brown Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.