Cold temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced any time a material burns. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts 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 progressively if the concentration is fairly low. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, many people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Never let your car engine run 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 such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may create a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you review possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every 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 a wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure 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 start and release the button. You will hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not work as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed improperly or not running as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Robinson Service Experts includes the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Robinson Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Robinson Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Robinson Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.