Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, which means it’s produced each time a material burns. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, starving 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 immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen slowly if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms resemble the flu, many people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, indicating the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't 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 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 near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. These alarms 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 securely: As you think about possible locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near 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 put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Simply 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 short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Donelson Air Service Experts includes the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Donelson Air Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Donelson Air Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Donelson Air Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.