Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s produced every time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur progressively if the concentration is relatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, suggesting the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can 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 close to your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These devices 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 review the best locations, remember that your home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure 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 let go of the button. You should hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won't work as expected, change 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 favor hardwired devices using 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 suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not performing 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 Finch Air Conditioning & Heating consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any malfunctions that may cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional areas where you could benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Finch Air Conditioning & Heating
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Finch Air Conditioning & Heating can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Finch Air Conditioning & Heating office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.