Cold temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, which means it’s released each time a material burns. If any 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 fumes and how to lower 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 processing oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen slowly if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, indicating the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can lead to a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
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 alert you of CO leaks. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you review potential locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working correctly. Simply 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 quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices using a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from McKinley Heating Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any troubling concerns that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact McKinley Heating Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, McKinley Heating Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local McKinley Heating Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.