Cold temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to 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 result of imperfect combustion, which means it’s produced each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering 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 minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, illustrating the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove in 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 emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. 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 properly: As you consider the best locations, don't forget that your home does best with 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 put in your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest 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 begin and let go of the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not work as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap 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 whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Barlow Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Barlow Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Barlow Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Barlow Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.