Icy temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s created every time a material burns. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a confined space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you review possible 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 out of reach 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 regularly: The majority of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You will hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, exchange 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 is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Rolf Griffin Service Experts offers the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional areas where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Rolf Griffin Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Rolf Griffin Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Rolf Griffin Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.