Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, which means it’s created any time a material burns. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is fairly modest. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, many people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you leave home, suggesting the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Don't leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. You can 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, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as it's supposed to, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with 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 as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed improperly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Eveready Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that might cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Eveready Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Eveready Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Eveready Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.