How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in 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 incomplete combustion, meaning it’s released each time a material burns. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide emissions and how to reduce 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 processing oxygen properly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death may occur. 

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

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

Because these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that subside when you aren’t home, indicating the source may be originating from inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO poisoning is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Run Combustion Appliances Correctly 

  • Don’t run your car engine while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed building, like a garage. 
  • Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an indoor space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices around 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Avoid using 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 cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases. 

Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors 

If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors securely: As you think about possible locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better. 
  • Test your detectors on a regular basis: The majority of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning correctly. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit entirely. 
  • Swap out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or whenever the manufacturer recommends. 

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance 

Multiple appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed improperly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning 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. 
  • Spot any malfunctions that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Assess additional spaces where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is operating at peak safety and effectiveness. 

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with 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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