Quincy, IL- Get your furnace checked as the weather cools and the house needs to be heated.

It could save your life.

The Quincy Fire Department has responded twice in the past month to incidents of carbon monoxide in homes. One involved a young mother and her two children who came close to death because of an old furnace not working properly. The other involved an apartment complex.

Carbon monoxide poisoning sends more than 20,000 Americans to the hospital and kills about 500 each year. It’s odorless and tasteless, and often called the “silent killer.”

“They were very fortunate,” Quincy Fire Chief Joe Henning said of the mom and two kids who nearly died after they turned on their furnace and faulty venting sent carbon monoxide levels soaring in the house. “With carbon monoxide, you have no idea it’s there. It’s the same vapor density as air, so it doesn’t settle or rise.”

Most homes have carbon monoxide measurements of about 5 to 15 parts per million, and alarms will sound when the level reaches the high 20s or 30s.

By state law, carbon monoxide detectors are required within 15 feet of all sleeping areas, and there must be one on every floor or living space. A carbon monoxide detector can cost as little as $20, and combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available.

For people with all-electric homes, carbon monoxide detectors are not required so long as there is not an attached garage.

Henning says the department gets called out more often now that the weather is turning colder and furnaces are clicking on for the first time.

“It’s more prevalent than people might think,” Henning says of carbon monoxide issues.

Brian Terstegge, president of Air Specialist Heating and Air Conditioning, says his business is busy this time of year checking heating systems. Furnaces should be checked to make sure vents are clean and clear, the heat exchanger doesn’t have cracks or visible wear, and the air and fuel mixtures are working properly.

A safety check can cost as little as $50. Maintenance agreements can lower the cost even further.

“With the economy, people sometimes try to cut corners,” Terstegge says. “The furnace is a relatively reliable appliance, so it’s out of sight, out of mind. If it kicks on and you have heat coming out of the vent, you think everything is fine, but that’s not always the case.”