Cold temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, which means it’s released every 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 poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering 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 fairly modest. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, illustrating the source could be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Use Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
- Never run 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 may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or small camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors properly: As you review potential locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any 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 install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and let go of the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not function as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out 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
Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Atmostemp Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any malfunctions that might cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional spaces where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Atmostemp Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Atmostemp Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Atmostemp Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.