Winter temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s produced any time a material burns. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place progressively if the concentration is relatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave the house, illustrating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space like a basement or garage, no matter 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 portable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify 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 properly: As you consider potential locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near each sleeping area and close 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.
- Test your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You should hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not work as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices using 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 as frequently the manufacturer suggests.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not working as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Church Services consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Assess additional spaces where you could benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Church Services
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Church Services can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Church Services office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.