How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Winter temperatures drive homeowners to seal up their homes and turn up the thermostat, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room every year due to accidental CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die. 

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

The Dangers 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. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without immediate care, brain damage or death may occur. 

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

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

Since these symptoms imitate the flu, many people don’t find out they have carbon monoxide poisoning until mild symptoms progress to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source may be somewhere inside. 

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips 

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

Operate Combustion Appliances Safely 

  • 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 may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents. 
  • Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper. 
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that could 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 around your home, you should install carbon monoxide detectors to warn you of CO leaks. 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 consider possible locations, keep in mind that your home needs CO alarms on every floor, near every sleeping area and close 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 install your detectors, the better. 
  • Test your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are working properly. Simply 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, see a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t perform as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit entirely. 
  • Replace the batteries: If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months. If you have hardwired devices with a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, 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, including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, may leak carbon monoxide if the system 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 malfunctioning before a leak develops. 

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

  • Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks. 
  • Look for any troubling concerns that could cause unsafe operation. 
  • Assess 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 efficiency. 

Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has developed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our HVAC maintenance and repair services promote a safe, comfortable home all year-round. Contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to schedule heating services

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