Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. 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 produced any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate 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 help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running 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 an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These detectors 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 think about potential locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance 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 bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You will hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as it's supposed to, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out 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, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Becht/Givens Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any troubling concerns that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Becht/Givens Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Becht/Givens Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Becht/Givens Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.