Cold temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each 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, which means it’s created any time a material burns. If the appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur progressively if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
As these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won't find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, indicating the source could be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- 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 a confined space like 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.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or close to 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 take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you consider the best locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors consistently: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You should hear two brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer suggests.
Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit 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 faulty before a leak develops.
A precision tune-up from Falso Service Experts offers the following:
- Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Look for any malfunctions that may lead to unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Falso Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Falso Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Falso Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.