Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some 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 Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, depriving 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 urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, many people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, indicating the source may be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't run 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 is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can create 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 close to your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. 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 properly: As you review the best locations, remember that your home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed improperly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Peitz Service Experts includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you could benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Peitz Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Peitz Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Peitz Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.