How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room every year because 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 released each time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide 

Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from processing oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, depriving 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 prompt care, brain damage or death can occur. 

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

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

Since these symptoms mimic the flu, many people won’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you leave home, illustrating the source may be someplace inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas. 

Operate Combustion Appliances Safely 

  • Don’t leave your car running while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage. 
  • Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in an indoor space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove inside a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could create a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide fumes. 

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

  • Install your detectors properly: As you think about possible locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better. 
  • Check your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working 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 will hear two short 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. 
  • Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with 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 as frequently the manufacturer suggests. 

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty 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. 
  • Look for any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Assess additional areas where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning 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 stop 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 details about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services

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