Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s released any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur progressively if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms imitate the flu, many people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, suggesting the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space such as a basement or garage, no matter 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 small camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you think about potential locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near each sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Chief/Bauer Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that may cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional places 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 effectiveness.
Contact Chief/Bauer Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Chief/Bauer Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Chief/Bauer Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.