How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year because of unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s released each time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide gases and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide 

Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overtake your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death could occur. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur slowly if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most common signs of CO poisoning include: 

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

Because these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave the house, suggesting the source could be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

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

Use Combustion Appliances Properly 

  • Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage. 
  • Don’t use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 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 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 run combustion appliances in or around your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO gas. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors securely: As you think about the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach 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: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating correctly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won’t perform as it’s supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether. 
  • Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices with 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 frequently the manufacturer recommends. 

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance 

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

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

  • Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Look for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation. 
  • Review additional areas where you might benefit from installing a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness. 

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed 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 encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services

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