How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

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

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide 

Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen that’s part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death may occur. 

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

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

Since these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source might be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO poisoning is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Operate Combustion Appliances Properly 

  • Don’t leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage. 
  • Don’t run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an indoor space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. 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 can lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions. 

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

If you ever use combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors securely: As you think about potential locations, remember that a home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit out of reach 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. 
  • Check your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are working properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won’t work as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely. 
  • Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out 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 as often as the manufacturer recommends. 

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year 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 & Plumbing includes the following: 

  • Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Look for any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Evaluate additional spaces where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness. 

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

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

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