A good furnace should give you years of efficient service before the repairs become too frequent and a final replacement is required. But, there are some problems that will require urgent attention and this would certainly include a carbon monoxide (CO) leak. A gas furnace can develop a CO leak, and this is extremely dangerous for everyone living in the home. In this article, we will explore this topic in more detail, give you four signs that you have a carbon monoxide leak, and explain what you can do to identify and fix the problem.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is composed of a single carbon atom and an oxygen atom. It’s common in and around any appliance that uses combustion, including gas furnaces, charcoal burners, kitchen ranges, small engines, and more. It’s important to avoid confusing the names carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. The former is harmless to health, and the latter is extremely toxic in very small amounts. Carbon monoxide has no discernible odor or color, and it cannot be seen with the naked eye. This means that you could breathe it for some time and succumb to this toxic gas without even knowing it.

What are the Health Consequences?

During the colder winter months, we tend to run our furnaces almost constantly. As you might imagine, this would increase the volume of carbon monoxide released into the home. But, even when the furnace is running for shorter times during the rest of the year, there is still the potential for low level exposure. A gas furnace relies on the combustion process to create heat, and this generates gases. When the furnace is working properly, these gases are vented outdoors, where they represent no health threat. But, when carbon monoxide is released indoors, there are a number of health consequences, including vomiting, headaches, dizziness, chest pains, weakness, and death.

5 Signs of a Carbon Monoxide Leak

There are five main ways to identify carbon monoxide emanating from your furnace:

1.   A Yellow Burner Flame

Under normal operating conditions, the pilot flame should be blue, even, and steady. But, if the flame is burning yellow and sputtering, this is a sign that incomplete combustion is taking place.

2.   Soot-Like Stains

Although carbon monoxide gas has no color, it does leave behind soot-like stains. The color of CO stains may be brown, black, or dirty yellow. They may be visible on the furnace or on surfaces in the immediate vicinity.

3.   Exhaust Gas Odors

Carbon monoxide has no discernible odor, but other exhaust gases do, and they may be leaked from the same areas. So, if you can smell a burning odor when your furnace is running, this may be an indication that there is a leak.

4.   Feeling Unwell in the Home

If you have any of the aforementioned health issues in the home and they go away when you’re outside, this could mean that you have a CO leak.

5.   A Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm

We hope that you have carbon monoxide detectors near the furnace and on each floor of your home. These are the same shape and size as a traditional smoke detector, and they are designed to detect trace volumes of CO. When the air is saturated to a set level, they emit a shrill beep to warn the occupants.

How Does a Carbon Monoxide Leak Develop?

There are many possible causes of incomplete combustion and a lack of exhaust gas venting. The most common problem is a cracked heat exchanger that’s releasing CO into the home. A heat exchanger is made of metal that expands and contracts every time the component heats up and cools down. Over time, this expansion and contraction can lead to the development of cracks in the heat exchanger walls. These cracks may only be visible when the furnace is running; when the surface is cool, the cracks can seal up again.

How Can I Prevent CO Leaks?

There are four ways to prevent CO leaks or detect them earlier to prevent the release of toxic gas into your home:

1.   Change the Air Filters

The development of carbon monoxide leaks is less likely if there is sufficient airflow through the air filter. The furnace filters should be changed every month to prevent the build up of CO and other contaminants.

2.   Install a CO Detector

If you don’t have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home, it’s time to install them now. These detectors are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. They work on battery power which makes it easier to position them anywhere. It’s a good idea to install one with 5-20 feet of the furnace or an appliance that may emit CO. It’s also important to install a CO detector on every floor of a multi-story home to protect your family as they sleep. To ensure that the detectors are working, test them every month and install fresh batteries.

3.   Schedule Annual Furnace Maintenance

A furnace contractor has the skills, knowledge, experience, and specialized tools to detect and repair carbon monoxide leaks. The entire system will be inspected, grime can be cleaned away, and old or broken components can be replaced. This will improve the performance, efficiency, and safety of the furnace. The best time to schedule furnace maintenance is in the fall before you need the extra heating over the winter months.

4.   Professional Furnace Installation

A gas furnace has a projected lifespan of 15-20 years, but it will start to lose performance and efficiency shortly after installation. The furnace will deliver great heating at the upper end of that lifespan with regular annual maintenance. But another key consideration is a professional installation for your new furnace. Hiring a handyman or taking a DIY approach to furnace installation is not recommended. Even a small mistake during this process can cause damage or make the system unsafe. Always hire a local professional HVAC specialist to install your furnace.

In Conclusion

Carbon monoxide is known as “the silent killer,” and the health consequences should be taken seriously. If you want to schedule maintenance for your HVAC system, contact your local heating and cooling specialist today.