How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Cold temperatures drive homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year as a result of accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a result of imperfect combustion, meaning it’s released every time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to minimize your risk of poisoning this winter.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Often referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from using oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death could occur.

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

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

Because these symptoms mimic the flu, many people never discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, suggesting the source might be originating from inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

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

Run Combustion Appliances Properly

    • Don’t run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage.
    • Do not leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space such as 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.
    • Never use a charcoal grill or small camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
    • Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce 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 around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO leaks. These alarms can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:

    • Install your detectors properly: As you review potential locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near each 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 place your detectors, the better.
    • Review your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are working correctly. Just 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 brief beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as it’s supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
    • Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, change 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 frequently the manufacturer recommends.

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance

Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed incorrectly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.

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

    • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
    • Look for any malfunctions that could lead to unsafe operation.
    • Evaluate additional places where you might benefit from setting up 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 sprung a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, warm home all year-round. Call 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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