Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 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 byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may lead to 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 around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you review potential locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers encourage 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 should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, change 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
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly 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 McElroy Service Experts consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and efficiency.
Contact McElroy Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, McElroy Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local McElroy Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.