Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released any 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 susceptible to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is fairly modest. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
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 alert you of CO gas. These alarms 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 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 near 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.
- Review your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest 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 sound and release the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not work as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not running as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Knochelmann Service Experts consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces 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 Knochelmann Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Knochelmann Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Knochelmann Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.