How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Cold temperatures drive homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually as a result of inadvertent CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

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

The Danger of Carbon Monoxide 

Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge 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 occur slowly if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include: 

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

Since these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people won’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that subside when you aren’t home, suggesting the source may be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the ideal ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide gas. 

Run Combustion Appliances Safely 

  • Don’t run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed structure, like a garage. 
  • Never run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller 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. 
  • Don’t use a charcoal grill or small camping stove in a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that can produce 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 close to your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO gas. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors: 

  • Install your detectors properly: As you consider the best locations, keep in mind that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on a wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better. 
  • Check your detectors regularly: The bulk of manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are operating properly. You can 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 brief beeps, observe a flash or both. If the detector does not function as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether. 
  • Change out the batteries: If these detectors are battery-powered models, exchange the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices with a backup battery, change 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 whenever the manufacturer suggests. 

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance 

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

A precision tune-up from Stevenson Service Experts includes the following: 

  • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Search for any malfunctions that might lead to unsafe operation. 
  • Assess additional areas where you might benefit from setting up a CO detector. 
  • Tune up your system so you know your heating and cooling is functioning at peak safety and effectiveness. 

Contact Stevenson Service Experts 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, Stevenson Service Experts can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Contact your local Stevenson Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services

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