Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year because of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s created every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as 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 overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is comparatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a confined space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
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 put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you think about the best locations, don't forget that your home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near each sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away 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.
- Test your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are working like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not work as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap 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 whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Epperson Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any troubling concerns 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 operating at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Epperson Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Epperson Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Epperson Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.