Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, which means it’s released every time a material burns. If some 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 inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people won't discover 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 could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or small camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may produce a blockage and cause 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 add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider possible locations, don't forget that a home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning correctly. 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 will hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not function as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change 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 frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from All American Air Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact All American Air Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, All American Air Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local All American Air Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.