How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Icy temperatures lead homeowners to batten down their homes and crank up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.

This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a side effect of imperfect combustion, which means it’s released any time a material burns. If the appliances in your home rely on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re susceptible to CO exposure. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide gases and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide

Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen properly. CO molecules displace oxygen within the blood, starving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overpower your system in minutes, triggering loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.

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

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

Because these symptoms mimic the flu, a lot of people never learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms evolve to organ damage. Be wary of symptoms that decrease when you leave home, illustrating the source might be originating from inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

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

Run Combustion Appliances Correctly

  • Never let your car engine run while parked in a covered or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
  • Do not use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a confined space like 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.
  • Never use a charcoal grill or transportable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
  • Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that may produce a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide gases.

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

If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you of CO leaks. These detectors can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet based on the style. Here’s how to reap all the benefits of your carbon monoxide detectors:

  • Install your detectors securely: As you review possible locations, don't forget that a home does best with CO alarms on all floors, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit out of reach from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can install your detectors, the better.
  • Check your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers encourage monthly testing to confirm your CO alarms are operating correctly. Just press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You will hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as expected, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
  • Change out the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you favor 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 often as the manufacturer recommends.

Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance

Several appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can emit carbon monoxide if the equipment is installed poorly or not performing as it should. A once-a-year maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is faulty before a leak appears.

A precision tune-up from D.A. Bennett Service Experts offers the following:

  • Examine the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Look for any malfunctions that could lead to unsafe operation.
  • Review additional areas where you could benefit from installing a CO detector.
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is functioning at peak safety and productivity.

Contact D.A. Bennett Service Experts

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to stop leaks before they happen, D.A. Bennett Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services encourage a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Call your local D.A. Bennett Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to ask for heating services.

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