Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s created each time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake 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 progressively if the concentration is relatively low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Properly
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
- Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you consider the best locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near 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 install your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating correctly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You ought to hear two brief beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the appliance 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 defective before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Matz-Rightway includes the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any troubling concerns that might lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and productivity.
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Matz-Rightway can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Matz-Rightway office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.