How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, which means it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of exposure this winter. 

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide 

Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen that’s part of 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 urgent care, brain damage or death can occur. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen progressively if the concentration is fairly low. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include: 

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

As these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you aren’t home, illustrating the source might be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO poisoning is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Run Combustion Appliances Correctly 

  • Never let your car engine run while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage. 
  • Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may create 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 close to your home, you should put in 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 take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors properly: As you review the best locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better. 
  • Test your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Simply 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, observe a flash or both. If the detector won’t work as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright. 
  • Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange 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 often as the manufacturer recommends. 

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly 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 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 malfunctions that might lead to unsafe operation. 
  • Assess additional areas where you would most benefit from setting up a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is operating 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 stop leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services encourage 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 ask for heating services

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