How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning that it’s produced any time a material burns. If some appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide

Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from consuming oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is relatively modest. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion

Since these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source may be originating from inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure.

Run Combustion Appliances Safely

  • Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
  • Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
  • Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
  • Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could produce a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.

Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you ever operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:

  • Install your detectors correctly: As you review potential locations, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
  • Review your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
  • Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer suggests.

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance

Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed incorrectly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.

A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following:

  • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Search for any problems that might cause unsafe operation.
  • Evaluate additional spaces where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating at peak safety and efficiency.

Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services.

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