Cold temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to 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 side effect of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s created every 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 susceptible to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you aren't home, illustrating the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These devices 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 correctly: As you review the best locations, remember that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and close 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.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are working properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't work as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If you have 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 as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Midway Services includes the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Midway Services
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Midway Services can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Midway Services office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.