Cold temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in 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, meaning it’s produced each 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 at risk of CO exposure. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide emissions and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter.
The Risks of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving 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 occur slowly if the concentration is fairly modest. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, illustrating the source could be somewhere inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO inhalation is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, no matter 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 small 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 emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These devices 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 properly: As you think about possible locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and near 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 install your detectors, the better.
- Review your detectors consistently: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure 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 sound and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector won't work as it's supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
- Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends.
Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly 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 San Antonio Air Service Experts offers the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Search for any problems that could cause unsafe operation.
- Evaluate additional places where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact San Antonio Air Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, San Antonio Air Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local San Antonio Air Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.