Cold temperatures drive homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in 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 byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s created any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source may be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.
Run Combustion Appliances Correctly
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like 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 might 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 create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors correctly: As you review potential locations, remember that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Check your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You ought to hear two brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won't function as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with 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 as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Orangutan Home Services consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that may cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and productivity.
Contact Orangutan Home Services
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Orangutan Home Services can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Orangutan Home Services office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.