How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s created any 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 exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide 

Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to 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 low. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include: 

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

Because these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren’t home, indicating the source could be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas. 

Operate Combustion Appliances Safely 

  • Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage. 
  • Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Don’t use a charcoal grill or portable 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 run combustion appliances in or close to your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors correctly: As you review the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit away 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 consistently: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are operating properly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You will hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely. 
  • Replace the batteries: If you have 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 when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends. 

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops. 

A precision tune-up from Levy & Son Service Experts includes the following: 

  • Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Look for any troubling concerns that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Evaluate additional areas 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 Levy & Son Service Experts 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Levy & Son Service Experts can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Levy & Son Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services

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