Cold temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s created each 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 exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly modest. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you aren't home, suggesting the source might be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Run Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you think about possible locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near each sleeping area and near 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.
- Test your detectors consistently: The bulk of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won't work as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, replace 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 often as the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts includes the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you would most 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 Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Bryant Heating & Cooling 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 Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.