Winter Carbon Monoxide Safety Reminders

Carbon monoxide detector

The year 2018 started with a bang here in the Northeast, with Old Man Winter looking surprisingly spry as he pummeled the area with snow and record-setting cold.

Most of us who are lucky enough to have heat stayed warm through the bitter stretch, protected in our homes and kept safe by our furnaces and boilers. But we shouldn’t take that safety for granted: each year, more than 20,000 people visit emergency rooms with symptoms of unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning – and nearly 40 percent of those visits come in the winter, when our heating systems are running at full bore.

To keep the dangerous and potentially deadly impact of CO at bay, you need to know how to spot the signs of poisoning, how to deal with its symptoms, and how to prevent CO buildup from occurring in the first place.

Carbon monoxide and CO poisoning: The basics

  • Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, odorless, and colorless gas produced when you burn propane, wood, oil, or any other kind of fuel. If it accumulates in your home, it can cause illness, disorientation, or, in extreme cases, death.
  • Carbon monoxide usually builds up due to poor ventilation or equipment breakdown. Some common conditions that can lead to CO buildup include a blocked vent or flue, a damaged or poorly maintained heating system, and overuse of an unvented appliance.
  • Symptoms of CO poisoning worsen as exposure to the gas increases. In mild cases, flu-like symptoms (headaches, nausea, and fatigue) are common. Moderate exposure leads to severe headaches, drowsiness, and disorientation. High exposure can lead to unconsciousness, convulsions, and potentially death. Please note that exposure to carbon monoxide can be especially problematic for young children, whose faster heart and breathing rates can hasten the spread of CO poisoning.
  • If you notice CO poisoning symptoms
    • Get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors, then leave the house
    • Call 911
    • Report your symptoms to your doctor
    • Get a professional inspection for your appliances before using them again

Five CO safety measures

While dangerous, CO poisoning is preventable with some sensible preparation and vigilance. Here are five of the best ways to prevent a CO buildup in your home:

  1. Install a carbon-monoxide detector on every floor of your home. Replace batteries once a year and replace the detector every five years.
  2. Get professional maintenance for your heating equipment every year. An expert will spot leaks and other potential issues before they become full-blown problems.
  3. Keep outdoor exhaust vents clear. A blocked ventilation duct can prevent CO from escaping, causing a dangerous buildup inside your home. When you shovel your driveway after a snow storm, be sure to clear exhaust vents, flues, and other lines, too.
  4. Look out for symptoms in your pets, too. Animals can be even more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning than we are. If your pet is unusually hard to awaken or seems sick, get him or her fresh air, check your CO detectors, and open a window.
  5. Never start your vehicle indoors. Always start your car with the garage door open, and never run it for more than a few minutes. Absent-mindedness can easily lead to a car pumping out dangerous levels of toxic exhaust in a non-ventilated area.

Did you know that our technicians inspect your heating equipment for leaks when we perform you home energy audit? That means you’ll stay safer and save money along the way. Contact us today to learn more!

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