Cold temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced any time a material burns. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower 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 occur gradually if the concentration is relatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms evolve to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, indicating the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
- Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can create 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 close to your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. 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 the best locations, remember that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, 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 the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers recommend 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 sound and let go of the button. You should hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, change out the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from BW/Cook Service Experts includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that might cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional areas where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact BW/Cook Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, BW/Cook Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local BW/Cook Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.