Don’t Let the Silent Killer Kill You: A Guide to Carbon Monoxide Safety

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It’s sometimes known as “the silent killer,” and in fact, it claimed more than 5,100 lives in the United States between 1999 and 2010. Carbon monoxide is a threat that homeowners often underestimate, but by learning more about this deadly gas, you can take action to protect yourself and your family members.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless gas that is generated whenever a fuel, like natural gas or oil, burns. Your furnace, wood-burning stove, gas generator, and gas stove all generate carbon monoxide. If everything is set up and functioning properly, the gas should be exhausted from your home by a ventilation system. However, when things go wrong, CO can end up in your home.

When you are exposed to CO, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion

Since the symptoms are similar to those of the flu, many homeowners overlook CO poisoning early on. They may even stay home from work, thinking that they’re sick, which only exposes them to more CO when they spend all day at home. This increased exposure is very dangerous, since a high level of exposure can lead to death.

Keeping Carbon Monoxide Out of Your Home

The primary strategy for keeping CO out of your home is ensuring that all of your fuel-burning appliances exhaust this gas properly. Use the following tips to keep carbon monoxide out of your home.

Leaving HVAC Repairs to a Specialist

Even if you consider yourself handy when it comes to DIY repairs, it’s best to leave HVAC repairs to a qualified HVAC technician. The training these experts receive prepares them to properly install and repair systems safely. If you accidentally forget to tighten one screw or route a certain vent pipe improperly, you could be putting yourself and your family members at risk.

Having Your HVAC System Inspected Once a Year

Hiring an HVAC company to look over your furnace once a year will ensure that minor problems are detected and repaired before they get to the point of causing CO leaks. During an inspection, your HVAC technician should look over the pilot light, burner, and flue pipe, all of which can contribute to a CO leak if they are not functioning properly.

Having Generators Professionally Installed

A backup generator can come in handy during a power outage. However, you must be careful to place the generator in an area where the fumes won’t leak through a window or door frame, exposing you to CO. It’s always best to have your generator professionally installed since your installer will take factors like prevailing winds, generator size, and window style into account before choosing a location and hooking up your generator.

Never Using a Gas Range for Heating

If your furnace fails on a cold day, you may be tempted to use the stovetop or oven for emergency heating. But your range is not designed to be left on long-term, and using it in this manner can cause CO to build up in your kitchen. Keep some electric space heaters on hand in case of furnace malfunction, and make sure you have the number of a reliable emergency HVAC contractor so you don’t have to shiver in a cold home any longer than necessary.

Using Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Even when you take all of the precautions above, accidents can happen. That’s why it’s important to also have a CO detector in your home. This device will regularly take samples of the air and begin beeping if your indoor air contains a dangerous concentration of CO.

Place your CO detector in your bedroom or in the hallway outside your bedroom. This way, you can be confident you’ll hear it if it beeps in the middle of the night. Plus, CO rises because it is lighter than air, so it tends to accumulate on the top floor of a home.

What to Do If You Suspect CO Exposure

If your carbon monoxide detector does start beeping, take the steps below as quickly as possible.

1. Leave the Home

Even if you’re not feeling ill, you should still pay attention to the alarm. Quickly turn off your HVAC system and any other fuel-burning appliances. Then, find somewhere safe to go, like the home of a friend or neighbor.

2. Seek Medical Treatment

If you’re experiencing CO poisoning symptoms like those described above, seek emergency medical attention at an emergency room or urgent care center. Do not hesitate to call 911 if you are severely ill and don’t feel comfortable driving. Head outside to get some fresh air while you wait for the ambulance. If you are symptom-free, you can skip this step.

3. Call Your HVAC Technician

Once you’re somewhere safe, call your HVAC technician and tell them what you’ve experienced. They can head over to your home and use their own equipment to test for the presence of CO and figure out where it is coming from.

CO poisoning occurs far too often, but by taking a preventative approach, you can protect yourself and your family. Remember to have all of your HVAC maintenance done by a qualified company, to install a CO detector, to always heed a beeping detector, and to take the symptoms of CO poisoning seriously.

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