How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Cold temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year because of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s created each time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the 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 breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide 

Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from processing oxygen appropriately. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is relatively minimal. The most frequent signs of CO inhalation include: 

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

Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, illustrating the source might be originating from inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO exposure is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Run Combustion Appliances Properly 

  • Don’t run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage. 
  • Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that could create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions. 

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

If you ever operate combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should put in 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 make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors correctly: As you consider potential locations, remember that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near each 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: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You should hear two brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not function as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright. 
  • Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you favor hardwired devices using 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 

Many appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops. 

A precision tune-up from Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing consists of the following: 

  • Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Look for any troubling concerns that could lead to 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 & Plumbing 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to stop 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. Contact 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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