Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, which means it’s released any time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is relatively modest. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, suggesting the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe 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 system in a confined space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most 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 all floors, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm 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 release the button. You ought to hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from R & M Climate Control Service Experts consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and productivity.
Contact R & M Climate Control Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, R & M Climate Control Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local R & M Climate Control Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.