How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home

Cold temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and crank up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room annually 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 every time a material is burned. If any appliances in your home use natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re vulnerable to CO inhalation. Learn what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to lower your risk of exposure this winter.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it stops the body from processing oxygen properly. CO molecules uproot oxygen that's part of the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overwhelm 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 gradually if the concentration is relatively low. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:

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

Since these symptoms imitate the flu, many people won't learn they have carbon monoxide poisoning until minor symptoms advance to organ damage. Watch out for symptoms that lessen when you leave the house, indicating the source could be somewhere inside.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

While CO exposure is intimidating, it’s also entirely avoidable. Here are the top ways to help your family avoid carbon monoxide gas.

Use Combustion Appliances Properly

  • Don't run your car engine while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
  • Do not run a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tool in an enclosed space like a basement or garage, regardless of how well-ventilated it may be. Also, keep these devices at least 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
  • Avoid using a charcoal grill or small camping stove within a home, tent or camper.
  • Keep all vents and flues free of debris that may create a blockage and cause backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.

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

If you ever run combustion appliances in or near your home, you should put in carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO leaks. These alarms 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 the best locations, remember that your home needs CO alarms on each floor, near every sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit a safe distance from combustion appliances as well as sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
  • Review your detectors consistently: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to ensure your CO alarms are functioning 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, watch a flash or both. If the detector doesn’t work as it's supposed to, replace the batteries or replace the unit altogether.
  • Swap out the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries every six months. If you prefer hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or when the alarm begins to chirp, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as often as the manufacturer suggests.

Plan for Annual Furnace Maintenance

Multiple appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, could leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed poorly or not working as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to ensure if an appliance is defective before a leak develops.

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

  • Check the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Spot any problems that might lead to unsafe operation.
  • Assess additional areas where you would most benefit from installing a CO detector.
  • Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and efficiency.

Contact Comfortech Service Experts

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

chat now widget box