How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room annually due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning that it’s produced every time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide 

Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, depriving 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 could occur. 

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

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

Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people won’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren’t home, suggesting the source might be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

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

Use Combustion Appliances Safely 

  • Don’t run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage. 
  • Never use 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 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 within a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can lead to a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes. 

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 install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors correctly: As you review potential locations, don’t forget that a home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better. 
  • Test your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning properly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You ought to hear two short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won’t work as it’s supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely. 
  • Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer suggests. 

Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Multiple appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not performing as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure 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. 
  • Search for any troubling concerns that could lead to unsafe operation. 
  • Evaluate additional areas where you could benefit from installing a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and productivity. 

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has sprung 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 promote a safe, comfortable 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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