How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Cold temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually as a result of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Danger of Carbon Monoxide 

Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from processing oxygen appropriately. CO molecules uproot oxygen that’s part of the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death can occur. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen gradually 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 mimic the flu, many people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms evolve to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, suggesting the source could be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

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

Use Combustion Appliances Properly 

  • Don’t run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage. 
  • Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, no matter 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 transportable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may produce a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases. 

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

If you ever use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors correctly: As you consider possible locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on each 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 put in your detectors, the better. 
  • Review your detectors regularly: The majority of manufacturers suggest monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are working properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You ought to hear two brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not perform as it’s supposed to, change the batteries or replace the unit outright. 
  • Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices with 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 as often as the manufacturer recommends. 

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed incorrectly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops. 

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

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

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

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 & Plumbing can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services

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