Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released every time a material burns. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is relatively modest. The most frequent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people don’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that decrease when you aren't home, suggesting the source may be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Don't use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could lead to a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO gas. 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 securely: As you consider potential locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and close to 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 place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. 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 quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector does not function as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace 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 suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Midland Air Service Experts consists of the following:
- Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Midland Air Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Midland Air Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Midland Air Service Experts office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.