Cold temperatures drive homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s created any time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce 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 consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen slowly if the concentration is relatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave the house, indicating the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may create a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
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 leaks. 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, remember that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating like they should. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't function as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, replace 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 recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the system is installed improperly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Levy & Son Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any troubling concerns that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas 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 productivity.
Contact Levy & Son Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Levy & Son Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Levy & Son Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.