How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures encourage homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit 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 side effect of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s created each time a material is burned. If some appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO poisoning. Find out what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter.

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide

Commonly known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from consuming oxygen appropriately. CO molecules displace oxygen that’s part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without urgent care, brain damage or death may occur.

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

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

As these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people won’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that decrease when you leave home, suggesting the source may be originating from inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

While CO exposure is alarming, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Use Combustion Appliances Correctly

    • Don’t leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage.
    • Never leave a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
    • Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove while inside a home, tent or camper.
    • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could create a blockage and trigger backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.

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 alert you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to make the most of your carbon monoxide detectors:

    • Install your detectors correctly: As you think about the best locations, keep in mind that a home needs CO alarms on every floor, near any sleeping area and near the garage. Keep each unit away 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.
    • Check your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working like they should. Just 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, observe a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as it’s supposed to, swap out the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
    • Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you favor hardwired devices that use a backup battery, swap out the battery once a year or if the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance

Many appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may release carbon monoxide if the appliance is installed poorly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak develops.

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

    • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
    • Look for any problems that could lead to unsafe operation.
    • Assess additional areas where you might 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 formed 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, comfortable 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 ask for heating services.

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