Winter temperatures drive homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year because of 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 created any time a material is burned. If the 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 inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you aren't home, suggesting the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a confined space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or transportable 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 use combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. 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 securely: As you review the best locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors consistently: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating properly. Simply 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, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Norrell Service Experts consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any troubling concerns that could cause unsafe operation.
- Assess additional areas 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 efficiency.
Contact Norrell Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Norrell Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Norrell Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.