Cold temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room annually because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s released 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 vulnerable to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place gradually if the concentration is comparatively low. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous 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 aren't 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 ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. These detectors 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 securely: As you review the best locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near each sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure 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 begin and release the button. You should hear two short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you favor 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.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from TML Service Experts consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Review 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 operating at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact TML Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, TML Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local TML Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.