Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced every time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is comparatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, illustrating the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you consider potential locations, don't forget that a home does best with 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 place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and let go of the button. You should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices with 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 whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not working 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 Stark Services includes the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional places where you might 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 Stark Services
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Stark Services can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Stark Services office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.