We rely on our heating systems to keep our homes warm and comfortable no matter the temperatures outdoors. Many of us pay little heed to these systems until something goes wrong, which is unfortunate. Investing in essential preventative maintenance for heating and cooling equipment is a smarter approach to potential problems. A visiting technician can identify many potential problems, and that includes carbon monoxide leaks. Installing a carbon monoxide (CO) detector near the furnace and on each floor in the home is an essential precaution against CO poisoning which is known as “the silent killer” for a good reason. In this article, we will take a closer look at the relationship between a gas furnace and carbon monoxide to help you make informed decisions.

What is the Scale of the Problem?

The main risk presented by carbon monoxide leads is from the heating system. That said, there are other sources to consider, including grills, stoves, space heaters, chimneys, cars, generators, and more. The HVAC system burns fuel to make the home warmer in winter and cooler in summer. When the fuel is burned, a chemical process occurs to create combustion, and the byproduct of this process is carbon dioxide (CO). Any cracks, leaks, malfunctions, and obstructions in the system can lead to an exhaust failure. This can cause the release of CO into the home, and this is dangerous.

Can the Furnace Leak CO if it’s Off?

The system cannot produce carbon monoxide if the furnace is not running. But this isn’t the whole story; the HVAC system could pull CO in from other sources and then circulate it throughout the home. A couple of prime examples would be the fireplace and water heater. If you have leaky ductwork, CO could go anywhere in your home, which surprises many people that don’t take adequate precautions. For this reason, we recommend regular maintenance for your appliances to prevent CO inhalation. Although many fatalities occur when the furnace is running, this is not a hard and fast rule.

What is Carbon Dioxide?

As we mentioned earlier, CO is a poison gas, it’s a byproduct of combustion, and it must be vented from the home to keep people safe. One of the most insidious things about CO is that it has no discernible odor, taste, or color to detect. The formation of this byproduct is an incomplete burn of the following fuels: natural gas, coal, wood, propane, kerosene, and oil. Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas; it’s estimated that approximately 170 die from CO inhalation every year.

How is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Detected?

The next logical question is how can a person detect CO poisoning if they can smell, taste, or see it? There are some initial symptoms that are similar to the onset of a cold or a bout of flu. They include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. If the exposure to carbon monoxide gas is more extensive, the symptoms become more extreme. They may include: blackouts, vomiting, a loss of coordination, disorientation, and breathing may become difficult. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to get outside and breathe some fresh air immediately. If the symptoms disappear when you’re breathing fresh air, this is a sure sign that there is a CO gas leak in your home or business.

Gradual exposure to carbon monoxide makes people feel lethargic, and this can easily be misdiagnosed by someone with no medical training as a minor illness. But, you cannot rely on the presence of these symptoms alone to keep your family safe from CO poisoning. Exposure to any volume of CO gas has the potential to be immediately fatal, and you cannot live in your home until the leak is identified and fixed. To protect your loved ones, install a carbon monoxide detector near the furnace and on every floor. The CO detector should be tested every month to ensure that it’s working as intended. If you hear the CO detector, get everyone out of the home and contact your local HVAC specialist to locate and fix the leak.

3 Ways to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Prevention is better than the cure, and this is very applicable when it comes to avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning. Let’s take a look at three preventative measures that you can apply to your own home or business now:

1.   Install CO Detectors

We’ve already covered this, but you need a unit that meets the UL 2034 safety standard to ensure that your family is safe. Don’t obscure the detector with tall furniture or drapes, and place it in an area with plenty of airflow.

2.   Professional HVAC Installation

When you have new household appliances installed in your home, always choose professional and certified installers. This is especially true when it comes to HVAC systems and related equipment. The manufacturer’s instructions must be fully adhered to, and there are local building codes to follow too. If you are uncertain about an existing HVAC installation that you may have inherited when you purchased your home, get it professionally inspected. To keep the HVAC system safe and running at optimal efficiency, schedule annual essential maintenance.

3.   Professional HVAC Maintenance

Developing DIY skills to save money on remodeling and other projects is a laudable goal. But, there are some aspects of home maintenance that should be left to a certified professional. Working on heating and cooling equipment requires a special set of skills that can take years of experience and training to develop fully. When you consider that unsafe HVAC equipment can make your home less safe, it’s apparent that this work should be left to a professional. Attempting a DIY repair or maintenance task can cause damage to critical components that are expensive to repair or replace. In many cases, a DIY attempt is more expensive than the initial maintenance costs because the technician needs to fix more problems.

If you’re concerned about carbon monoxide leaks or you want to schedule some essential maintenance for your HVAC system, contact your local heating and cooling specialist.