How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

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

The Danger of Carbon Monoxide 

Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from consuming oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen in the blood, starving 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 take place progressively if the concentration is fairly low. The most common signs of CO inhalation include: 

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

Since these symptoms imitate the flu, numerous people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source might be originating from inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide exposure. 

Run Combustion Appliances Properly 

  • Don’t leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage. 
  • Don’t leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Don’t use a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can create a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions. 

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 install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO gas. These devices 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 the best locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better. 
  • Review your detectors consistently: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning properly. 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 will hear two short beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector won’t function as expected, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether. 
  • Change out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use 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 whenever the manufacturer suggests. 

Arrange 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 running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops. 

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 troubling concerns that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Review additional areas where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning 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 promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services

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