Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. 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 gases and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most common signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, illustrating the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you think about possible locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as 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: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't function as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Parker Pearce Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Parker Pearce Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Parker Pearce Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Parker Pearce Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.