How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year due to inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, which means it’s produced any time a material is combusted or used for fuel. If any appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of poisoning this winter. 

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide 

Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from using oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Dense concentrations of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing 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 relatively low. The most frequent signs of CO exposure include: 

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

Since these symptoms resemble the flu, numerous people won’t learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, illustrating the source may be originating from inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO exposure is intimidating, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the best ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Operate Combustion Appliances Properly 

  • Never let your car engine run while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed structure, such as a garage. 
  • Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed 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. 
  • Don’t use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can 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 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 correctly: As you review potential locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and adjacent to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better. 
  • Check your detectors on a regular basis: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working properly. You can press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to sound and release the button. You should hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright. 
  • Swap out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices using a backup battery, change out 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 

Several appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not running as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak develops. 

A precision tune-up from Midway Services includes the following: 

  • Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Look for any troubling concerns that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Review additional areas where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and efficiency. 

Contact Midway Services 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Midway Services can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local Midway Services office for more info about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services

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