How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures lead homeowners to secure their homes and raise the thermostat, elevating the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. About 50,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room every year as a result of 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 burned. If some appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO exposure. Learn what happens when you breathe carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide

Often known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules uproot oxygen within the blood, starving 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 may occur.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is comparatively modest. The most common signs of CO inhalation include:

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

Since these symptoms resemble the flu, a lot of people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you aren't home, suggesting the source could be originating from inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

While CO inhalation is frightening, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to protect your family from carbon monoxide gas.

Operate Combustion Appliances Safely

  • Don't run your car engine while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
  • Never use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered system in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it might be. Also, keep these devices at least 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 clear 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 use combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These devices 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, don't forget that your home needs CO alarms on all floors, near each 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 your wall or ceiling you can put in your detectors, the better.
  • Check your detectors on a regular basis: The bulk of manufacturers suggest 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 start and let go of the button. You ought to hear two quick beeps, watch a flash or both. If the detector does not work as anticipated, swap out the batteries or replace the unit outright.
  • Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you have hardwired devices that use a backup battery, replace 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.

Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance

Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not performing as it should. An annual maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.

A precision tune-up from Gordon's Service Experts includes the following:

  • Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Spot any troubling concerns that might cause unsafe operation.
  • Assess additional places where you might 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 Gordon's Service Experts

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to thwart leaks before they happen, Gordon's Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services promote a safe, warm home all year-round. Call your local Gordon's Service Experts office for more details about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.

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