How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating 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 byproduct of imperfect combustion, which means it’s produced each time a material burns. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Learn what happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide emissions and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from consuming oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot 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 slowly if the concentration is comparatively low. The most prevalent signs of CO inhalation include:

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

As these symptoms resemble the flu, many people won’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, suggesting the source may be somewhere inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

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

Use Combustion Appliances Correctly

    • Don’t leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, like a garage.
    • Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, no matter how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
    • Avoid using a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
    • Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may 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 near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:

    • Install your detectors properly: As you review the best locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near 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 install your detectors, the better.
    • Review your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating like they should. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to start and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won’t work as anticipated, change the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
    • Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer recommends.

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance

Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can release carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not working 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 consists of the following:

    • Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
    • Look for any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
    • Evaluate additional spaces where you could benefit from setting up a CO detector.
    • Tune up your system so you know your equipment 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 help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.

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