Cold temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct 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 inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, depriving 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 prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, many people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, illustrating the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear 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 use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in 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 make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review 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 away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure 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 short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace 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 whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly 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 develops.
A precision tune-up from Comfort Masters Service Experts includes the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Comfort Masters Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Comfort Masters Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Comfort Masters Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.