How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to seal up their homes and raise the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year as a result of accidental 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 is combusted or used for fuel. If any 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 gases and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide

Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules uproot oxygen that’s part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.

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

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

Because these symptoms imitate the flu, many people won’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you aren’t home, suggesting the source might be somewhere inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

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

Use Combustion Appliances Correctly

    • Don’t run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
    • Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a confined space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
    • Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
    • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes.

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

If you ever use combustion appliances in or around your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:

    • Install your detectors correctly: As you review the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
    • Test your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating like they should. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won’t work as it’s supposed to, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
    • Replace the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance

Many appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.

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

    • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
    • Look for any malfunctions that might lead to unsafe operation.
    • Assess additional spaces where you might benefit from installing a CO detector.
    • Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is running at peak safety and productivity.

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing

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

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