Every day, we are exposed to carbon monoxide (CO), a gas commonly found in the air inside and outside of our homes. Though harmless at outdoor levels, carbon monoxide becomes deadly when it builds up! According to the CDC, over 400 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning.
There are two basic ways to tell if you have a carbon monoxide leak:
1. Your carbon monoxide detector goes off
2. Someone in your home develops carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms
But what is carbon monoxide and where does it come from?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas. It is often called “The Silent Killer” because it is almost impossible to detect with your own senses. It is a by-product of the combustion process that happens when fuel is burned. It’s common in many home appliances:
- Gas stoves
- Fireplaces and stoves that burn wood and pellets
- Space heaters
- Gas water heaters
This list doesn’t cover everything. Even vehicle engines emit carbon monoxide, which is why you shouldn’t leave your car running in the garage with the garage door closed. Carbon monoxide buildup can quickly lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when you or another individual has inhaled too much carbon monoxide. It can happen quite suddenly, and the symptoms include the following:
These symptoms might vary between individuals. Because carbon monoxide is practically impossible to smell, you may not realize you are being poisoned until symptoms occur. Maybe not even then if you are asleep. This is why a carbon monoxide detector is so important for your home.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be treated if caught in time, but if you don’t seek medical treatment immediately, it can cause permanent damage or even death.
What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning
If you or someone else is experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, immediately turn off any and all gas-burning appliances! Open windows and doors and exit your home right away. You need fresh air. The New Mexico Gas Company advises you to call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will determine if you need medical attention. Make sure you use common sense. If it’s clearly a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.
Once you have taken care of any medical emergencies, call the New Mexico Gas Company at 888-NM-Gas-Co (888-664-2726) to come find the source of the leak. You will probably need to replace the appliance causing the problem.
How do I avoid carbon monoxide poisoning?
Here are some simple steps that can help you avoid leaks and poisoning:
1. Install a carbon monoxide detector
A carbon monoxide detector is the best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Since you cannot smell, see or taste the carbon monoxide, you need something that can. Carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive and come in many models to choose from.
The carbon monoxide detector is especially important during the winter months. Though it can occur any time of the year, there are far more cases of poisoning from November to March. Below is the number of deaths from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from 2010-2015:
If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, you need to install one. TLC’s HVAC professionals can do this for you. If you already have a detector, make sure it is functioning properly. Your life or the life of someone you love could depend on it!
What should you do if the detector goes off?
Immediately turn off all gas-burning appliances and go outside! A properly working detector should warn you of carbon monoxide before you develop symptoms, but if you or someone else experiences symptoms, call Poison Control. Once you have taken care of any medical emergencies, call the New Mexico Gas Company at 888-NM-Gas-Co (888-664-2726).
2. Have gas-burning equipment inspected regularly
An annual inspection of your furnace and other gas-burning appliances can literally save you a headache later. Most professionals conduct Carbon Monoxide Tests when they inspect your furnace. Getting this done before you start using your furnace each fall is a good idea. If your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide the test will detect any abnormal CO levels and these can be fixed before it becomes dangerous. This inspection is included in TLC’s affordable Preventive Maintenance Program.
3. Get your chimney cleaned annually
It’s easy to think that because you have a wood stove or fireplace that you don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide. This is not the case. Wood burning is another form of fuel combustion that emits carbon monoxide. If your chimney is clogged, carbon monoxide can build to harmful levels. Get your chimney professionally cleaned each year before building that cozy fire.
What is the bottom line?
Carbon monoxide can be harmful and even deadly, but preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is easy, inexpensive and worth the effort. You and your family can enjoy peace mind along with a warm, cozy house this winter.
Schedule your furnace inspection, carbon monoxide test or carbon monoxide detector installation. TLC provides 24-hour heating services in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and surrounding areas. If you have questions, feel free to “Ask a Pro” or give us a call.