How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures lead homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, which means it’s created any time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.

The Danger of Carbon Monoxide

Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen that's part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overpower your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur.

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

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

Since these symptoms mimic the flu, numerous people don’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave the house, suggesting the source may be originating from inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.

Use Combustion Appliances Correctly

  • Don't leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
  • Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
  • Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can lead to a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.

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 install carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:

  • Install your detectors securely: As you review the best locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near any sleeping area and close to 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 put in your detectors, the better.
  • Test your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating 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 short beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit entirely.
  • Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, change 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 whenever the manufacturer recommends.

Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance

Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.

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

  • Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Look for any troubling concerns that may cause unsafe operation.
  • Review additional areas where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness.

Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed 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, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.

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