Once cold weather hits the Kansas City area, we scurry to keep our homes warm for the winter. It comes time to turn on the heating system, dust off the oil furnace, and light up the fireplace. All that heat keeps us nice and toasty, but there’s a silent threat that can lurk through your house if you’re not careful — carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide isn’t called the “silent killer” for nothing. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year. On top of that there are 20,000 visit the emergency room, and 4,000 people are hospitalized, all because carbon monoxide snuck up on them.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen to anyone, especially inside their homes. Our heating experts at Santa Fe Air Conditioning and Heating know the importance of fully understanding carbon monoxide in Kansas City and how to protect your family against it.
What is carbon monoxide?
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Many people have heard the warnings and tragic stories, but what is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is produced from burning fuels such as propane, gasoline, and heating oil. The fact that it is completely odorless, colorless, and non-irritating, makes it extremely dangerous.
Well, our bodies need oxygen to survive, and we depend on the air we breathe for that oxygen. There’s a molecule in our red blood cells called hemoglobin that takes oxygen from our lungs and transports it to the rest of our body.
All of that is great for us, but when carbon monoxide is present, it changes everything. CO binds to hemoglobin 200 times more easily than oxygen. That means, instead of transporting oxygen to your body, your red blood cells are transporting CO. In turn, our vital organs like our heart and brain begin to suffocate from the lack of oxygen, and that can become fatal if not treated.
What emits carbon monoxide?
If you aren’t aware of household items that emit carbon monoxide, it can infiltrate your home without you even knowing. There’s one thing to always keep in mind: if it burns gas or wood, it probably produces carbon monoxide. Always keeping that in mind will ensure that you are extra cautious about those fuel-burning items. Examples of this include:
- Gas burning stoves and ovens
- Kerosene heaters
- Gas-fueled space heaters
- Unvented fireplaces
- Water heaters
- Wood stoves
- Tobacco smoke
- Motor vehicles
- Faulty furnace systems
- Chimney with leaks
Carbon monoxide and your HVAC system
You don’t have to worry about your A/C system causing carbon monoxide poisoning, but a poor heating system could definitely be a culprit. A malfunctioning heating system can allow carbon monoxide to leak into your home.
Many leaks are due to a damaged heat exchanger. A heat exchanger vents dangerous gases from your home to the outside. Over time your heat exchangers can develop cracks or holes, and if you never check it, you’ll never know because your furnace will still work. Cracks can occur simply from age or extreme heat that comes from short cycling.
To prevent this, make sure you are doing yearly checkups for your heating system by a professional. Santa Fe Air is an HVAC company in Kansas City that can help you prevent carbon monoxide leaks. You can easily schedule a furnace check up online, and we’ll make sure everything is running smoothly to keep your family safe this winter.
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms
Unfortunately, a lot of carbon monoxide symptoms are flu-like in nature. Many people end up thinking they are sick rather than poisoned. That’s a major problem, because people wait until the last minute to seek treatment, or worse, treatment never happens. Initial symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
With prolonged carbon monoxide exposure those symptoms worsen, and that escalation can be very quick. The nausea can turn into vomiting, then loss of muscle coordination. After a while, exposure to high amounts of carbon monoxide will lead to unconsciousness and suffocation.
Carbon monoxide or flu symptoms?
Being able to decipher if your symptoms are from the flu or carbon monoxide could be life changing. If you or anyone in your family feels sick and you think it may be carbon monoxide-related, check for these signs:
You feel better when you’re away from home
The flu isn’t conditional to where you are. If you go to work, and you’re still feeling sick, you should probably just go home. On the other hand, if you go to work and you feel a lot better, it could be carbon monoxide. Once you’re away from the source, you body can get more oxygen, so you’ll start to feel better.
You don’t have a fever or swollen lymph nodes
If you have the flu, you’re probably going to have a fever. It’s a big red flag if you don’t have a fever or swollen lymph nodes. Again, if you think it could be carbon monoxide, try spending some time elsewhere and see if your symptoms go away.
Everyone in your family gets sick at the same time
Although people can be affected by carbon monoxide differently, it tends to happen at the same time. Once there’s a leak, you’ll notice the people you live with starting to share the same symptoms. The flu, however, is passed from one person to another. Two people may have the flu at the same time, but one person usually would’ve had symptoms before the other.
Your pets appear to be sick too
The thing about a human virus is that it won’t be passed down to your cat or dog. But carbon monoxide will hurt them just as much as it hurts you. If your pets are showing symptoms along with your family, it just might be carbon monoxide.
Who is more likely to get hurt by carbon monoxide?
First off, everyone can get hurt by carbon monoxide, but there are instances where some people are more affected than others.
A fetus is fragile, and that’s definitely true when it comes to carbon monoxide exposure. Fetal blood picks up CO much faster than adult blood, making fetuses more susceptible.
On average, a child will take more breaths than an adult would. That means a child would be breathing in CO at a faster pace than an adult.
Older adults who are exposed to carbon monoxide and get poisoned are more likely to have brain damage.
Children and adults with certain conditions are also at a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. This includes people with:
- Respiratory conditions such as asthma
- Cardiovascular disease
- Sickle-cell anemia
How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning in your Kansas City home
Install carbon monoxide detectors
The best way to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning in Kansas City is to get a carbon monoxide detector. Every home should have one, just like every home has a smoke detector. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in areas where you’ll hear it going off, such as near the bedrooms.
Maintenance your fuel-burning appliances
Appliances like your gas stove should be checked regularly to ensure that they are working properly. It’s important that you don’t just let them run and assume that their carbon monoxide levels are fine.
Warm up your car outside
Never start your car in an enclosed garage. Make sure you open your garage before you begin warming up your car, or go one step further and pull your car out into the driveway. This is the only way to make sure it won’t accumulate carbon monoxide in an enclosed space.
Use the right amount of fuel in kerosene heaters
Always follow your heater’s fuel guidelines; don’t just eyeball it. If you put too much, your heater will be burning more gas than necessary, which will make the concentration of carbon monoxide in your home higher.
Always use a flue when using your fireplace
It doesn’t matter if your fireplace utilizes wood or gas; both can be dangerous if they aren’t ventilated properly. Fireplaces should never be allowed to burn if the flue is blocked or damaged. Carbon monoxide will begin to flow around the house, and you may not notice until it’s too late.
Repair leaks in your central heating system
As we said earlier, leaks in your heating system can do a lot of harm. If you notice a problem, call your trusted HVAC company to help with repairs. For people in the Kansas City and Johnson County areas, Santa Fe Air is happy to help you with any heating repairs.
Let us protect your family with a great central heating system
There comes a time when your current heating system just isn’t cutting it. Santa Fe Air installs high-quality furnaces to protect your family against carbon monoxide poisoning. Since 1987 we’ve been putting our customers first to give them the best heating solutions in the Kansas City metro area. Your family is our family, and we’ll never cut corners that will compromise safety.