Cold temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually because of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, which means it’s created any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home run 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 lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from consuming oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, indicating the source might be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Use Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or transportable 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 gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. 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 securely: As you think about possible locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every 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 the wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning properly. 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 ought to hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices using a backup battery, swap out 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.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Fras-Air/General Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Fras-Air/General Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Fras-Air/General 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 Fras-Air/General Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.