Why carbon monoxide is so dangerousiStock/vadimguzhva Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most dangerous gasses that can accumulate in your home, especially in winter, as more Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the cold weather months than at any other time of year, according to a recent study. And because CO is colorless, odorless, and impossible to detect without a carbon monoxide alarm, it can literally kill you before you have a clue what's happening. "Each year, more than 400 people die from accidental CO poisoning," says Sage Singleton, a safety expert at SafeWise, a home safety company. "Because it's a silent killer, it's essential to safeguard your home and educate your family." Watch for these other winter dangers and learn how to stay safe.
Stop the leaksiStock/ninode Any home appliance or equipment that burns natural gas, oil, coal, charcoal, propane, or wood can produce carbon monoxide, according to Richard Ciresi, a spokesperson for Aire Serv, a global HVAC company, in Louisville, Kentucky. Once a year, make it a must to have these items inspected by a professional. "Follow the guidelines on your appliances, too, and replace any units that are damaged or outdated," suggests Sam Tadesse, president of Marina Security Services in San Francisco. These are the systems and appliances that require regular inspection.
- Water heaters
- Ovens and ranges
- Wood burning stoves
- Space heaters
- Charcoal and propane grills
- Backup generators
- Gas-powered lawn mowers
Detector placement mattersiStock/sturti Dedicated carbon monoxide detectors are a must to protect you from CO poisoning—but you can't just stick them anywhere and expect them to work. To keep your family safe, Ciresi suggests you install CO alarms in these hot spots:
- On every floor of your home, so you can hear the alarm no matter where you are
- Right outside sleeping areas to ensure no one sleeps through the alarm
- Near appliances that could leak carbon monoxide but still at least 15 feet away to prevent false alarms
- On or near the ceiling where hot air carrying CO gas is likely to accumulate
- Away from drafty areas such as windows and air registers
- Away from the bathroom where high humidity could cause false alarms
- Out of direct sunlight to help prevent false alarms
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When in doubt, testiStock/leekris How you know if your carbon monoxide detector is working: Test it. To do so, check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit. In general, however, testing involves these four steps:
- Press and hold the "Test" button for a few seconds. Loud beeping indicates the detector is working correctly.
- Release the button.
- Change the batteries if the unit fails the test.
- Replace the detector immediately if replacement batteries don't make a difference.
Know the signs of CO poisoningiStock/Jay_Zynism If you or a family member experiences a number of the following symptoms, you may have CO poisoning. If so, get outside as fast as possible and call 911 immediately.
- confusion and drowsiness
- fast heart beat and chest pain
- vision problems
Filter the dryer bunniesiStock/mphillips007 If you have a gas dryer, the lint in your dryer vent can pose a CO danger. "In addition to posing a fire hazard, all those dirty lint bunnies blocking your dryer exhaust can force carbon monoxide into your living space," says Ciresi. Don't miss the other household items you should be cleaning more often.
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