Winter temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s released every time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most frequent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source could be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a confined space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable 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 fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review potential locations, remember that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You should hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using 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 as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed improperly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Broad Ripple Service Experts consists of the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could 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 running at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Broad Ripple Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Broad Ripple 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 Broad Ripple Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.