Winter temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s created every time a material burns. If some appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions 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 taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is fairly modest. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, suggesting the source may 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 gas.
Use Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO gas. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to 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, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure 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 release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not function as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from A-PLUS Service Experts offers the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact A-PLUS Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, A-PLUS Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local A-PLUS Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.