Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, which means it’s produced each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is fairly modest. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you leave the house, suggesting the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space like a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove 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 run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you review possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on every floor, 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 your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating properly. You can 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, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices that use 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 whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Komfort Air Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that may cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Komfort Air Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Komfort Air Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Komfort Air Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.