Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s released any time a material burns. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, many people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, illustrating the source may 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 exposure.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Don't leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller space such as 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.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could create a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
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 install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. 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 properly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach 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.
- Review your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed improperly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Wesley Wood Service Experts offers the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Wesley Wood Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Wesley Wood 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 Wesley Wood Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.