Winter temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year due to inadvertent 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 inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, illustrating the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Don't leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices around 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 free of debris that can lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add 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 correctly: As you consider the best locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working properly. Just 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, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't work as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed improperly or not performing 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 Peachtree Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that may cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Peachtree Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Peachtree Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Peachtree Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.