Cold temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room each year because of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s produced any time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge 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 immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur progressively if the concentration is relatively low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve 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 poisoning is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using 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 encourage 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 install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you consider potential locations, remember that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning properly. 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 short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, replace 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.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not performing as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Sunbeam Service Experts consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that may cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional places where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Sunbeam Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Sunbeam Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Sunbeam Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.