Winter temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s released any time a material burns. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur gradually if the concentration is relatively low. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms resemble the flu, many people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, suggesting the source might be someplace inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a confined space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never 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 produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in 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 properly: As you review the best locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near every 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 your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure 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 let go of the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not work as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the system 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 faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that could lead to unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional spaces where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.