Every year, more than 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning and another 20,000 visit the emergency room, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The danger is greatest in wintertime, because your furnace and other fuel-burning appliances can emit the odorless, colorless and tasteless gas, causing you to fall ill before you realize that something has gone wrong. Infants, the elderly and people with chronic illness are especially susceptible. How can you avoid being stricken by this potentially deadly gas? Follow these tips to keep your home safe for you and your family.
- Use Carbon Monoxide Detectors: They're inexpensive, easy to install and they can save your life. Put one on each level of your home, just like you do for smoke detectors. Unlike smoke detectors, however, carbon monoxide detectors should be placed low. The gas is heavier than air, so a detector that plugs into the wall is one option. If you choose this type, make sure they have a battery backup so they will still function when the power goes out. Check the batteries twice a year.
- Get Your Furnace Serviced: You should have an expert give your heating system an annual checkup, paying particular attention to the furnace, boiler, water heater and any other equipment that burns gas or oil. The technician can optimize your unit’s performance, patch any leaks and solve impending problems before they occur.
- Clean Your Chimney: If you have a wood stove or fireplace, make sure it is properly ventilated and able to draw smoke up the chimney. If it gets blocked, the gas can back up into your house, putting your family at risk.
- Don't Make Amateur Repairs: If you find a leak in your HVAC system, don't try to fix it yourself unless you’re a qualified technician. Duct tape is not actually an effective means of patching ductwork. When in doubt, call a professional.
- Keep Grills and Generators Outdoors: Never operate a grill indoors, whether it's charcoal-fueled or gas. This includes the basement or garage. And if you use a generator, make sure it is outside with plenty of ventilation. Carbon monoxide can build up inside even when you have doors and windows open.
- Pull the Car Out: Once you turn your car on, don't linger in the garage, or gasses can quickly accumulate.
If your CO detector goes off, turn off your fuel-burning appliances immediately, open the doors and windows and exit the house. Call a qualified HVAC technician and seek emergency medical assistance if anyone in the house experiences headaches, dizziness or nausea. The carbon monoxide binds to your blood and prevents oxygen from circulating through your body, so it's essential to receive medical treatment if you have been exposed.
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