Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s created each time a material burns. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, 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, regardless of how well-ventilated it may 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 within 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 operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You will hear two brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won't work as it's supposed to, replace 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 prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change 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 frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several 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 once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Jack Nelson Service Experts includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact Jack Nelson Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Jack Nelson Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Jack Nelson Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.