Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, which means it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure 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 displace oxygen in 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 occur progressively if the concentration is comparatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, many people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, suggesting the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could produce 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 close to your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you consider the best locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working like they should. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You should hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't function as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices using a backup battery, swap 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 recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from A1 Chesney Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact A1 Chesney Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, A1 Chesney Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local A1 Chesney Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.