How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.

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

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Frequently known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it keeps the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overtake your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen slowly if the concentration is comparatively minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO exposure include:

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

As these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people never find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that subside when you leave home, illustrating the source might be somewhere inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

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

Run Combustion Appliances Correctly

    • Don’t run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
    • Do not use 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 is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
    • Avoid using a charcoal grill or portable camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
    • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can produce a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.

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

If you ever operate combustion appliances in or around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet depending on the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:

    • Install your detectors properly: As you consider possible locations, don’t forget that your home does best with CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on your wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
    • Check your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working properly. 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 short beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t function as anticipated, replace the batteries or replace the unit outright.
    • Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with 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 frequently the manufacturer recommends.

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance

Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could release carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly 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 includes the following:

    • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
    • Search for any problems that may lead to unsafe operation.
    • Review additional places where you would most benefit from putting in a CO detector.
    • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running 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 prevent leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote 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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