Everyone needs to be on guard against carbon monoxide (CO) pollution in the home. Any appliance that relies on the combustion of fuel can create carbon monoxide. This odorless gas comes from burning fuels, like natural gas, propane, wood, or gasoline. Proper maintenance of appliances and early detection of problems will save you and your family from this potentially deadly indoor air pollutant.
The Extent of the Threat
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental CO poisoning takes the lives of approximately 400 people every year. An additional 20,000 or more people seek treatment at emergency rooms, and some require hospital admission.
How Does CO Enter the Home?
Properly operating furnaces or other fuel-burning appliances vent their exhaust outdoors. However, malfunctions or improper uses allow fumes to leak into your indoor environment. For example, a car left running in an attached garage can spread deadly levels of CO throughout an entire home, killing people and pets.
Top Sources of CO in the home
The following are some appliances that can produce carbon monoxide:
- Gas furnaces
- Gas water heaters
- Gas dryers
- Gas fireplaces
- Kerosene space heaters
- Gas ranges and ovens
- Running cars or generators in garages or enclosed spaces
How CO Attacks the Body
Normal human and animal respiration requires breathing in oxygen that the lungs then transfer to red blood cells. The red blood cells transport oxygen to the cells in your body via hemoglobin, a substance found in red blood cells. However, hemoglobin has a greater affinity for carbon monoxide than it does for oxygen, so the air that you breathe contains more than trace amounts of CO, the gas starts to take up space in the hemoglobin that is normally reserved for oxygen. Each breath that you take attaches more CO to the hemoglobin and replaces oxygen. Diminishing levels of oxygen in your body eventually lead to devastating results like brain damage and death.
Symptoms of CO Exposure
The infiltration of CO gas into your home can start slowly. Symptoms can creep up on you before they become life-threatening. Exposure generally triggers dull headaches or dizziness. You may feel weak or nauseous. As the problem escalates, you will experience shortness of breath because your body is not getting the oxygen that it needs. Confusion and blurred vision may precede loss of consciousness. At this point, you may die if do not escape the polluted air.
If you or other family members have been complaining of some of the early symptoms of CO exposure, then you should have your appliances and indoor air quality checked immediately. Carbon monoxide could very well be the problem, especially if you start feeling better whenever you leave the house.
The Importance of an Annual Furnace Inspection
Because gas furnaces operate for 10 to 20 years, they have plenty of opportunities to break down. Sometimes, deteriorating furnace function includes problems with its exhaust system. An annual inspection and furnace tune-up catch these issues before they have a chance to threaten you with a deadly CO leak into the home.
In Mesa, AZ, Honest Air Conditioning has a qualified team of furnace technicians. We will measure your current CO levels to confirm its safe operation. If levels are unsafe, we can quickly repair the issue and restore the proper exhaust of combustion fumes. Furnace maintenance also improves operational efficiency. We clean and lubricate moving parts to promote smooth operation that uses fuel efficiently.
Install CO Alarms
You are far from helpless in the face of this threat. Installing one or more CO monitoring alarms in your home will give you advance warning of the hazard. You can find these devices for sale in the same places that sell smoke detectors. Place CO alarms near your gas-burning appliances.
Follow Directions for Use of Gas Appliances
When your furnace is broken, you may be tempted to warm up your home or apartment by leaving a gas range or oven on. Doing so directly contradicts the usage directions for gas cooking equipment. Your stove or oven is not a space heater. Trying to heat with a gas stove increases the risk of CO exposure.
Never cook with camp stoves or gas grills in indoor spaces. All outdoor gas-burning equipment requires open-air ventilation. This equipment does not have a ventilation or exhaust system to protect you from the buildup of fumes inside.
Don’t Sleep With Kerosene Space Heaters Running
Many kerosene space heaters or other space heaters that combust fuel are designed for indoor use. However, you should monitor their operation. You may need to open a window from time to time to allow fresh air inside. Never go to bed with them running. People are very vulnerable to CO poisoning while asleep. They don’t get an opportunity to notice early symptoms, and their blood oxygen levels can drop so low that they never wake up.
Be Cautious With Generators
Gas or diesel generators provide relief from power outages, but they are only meant for outdoor use. Running a generator in an attached garage or basement will pollute your home’s air with dangerous exhaust fumes.
Turning on generators in indoor locations can be tempting at construction sites. Workers need power to run tools while finishing a space before the electricity has been hooked up. You should not operate a generator in an enclosed space under construction. Position the generator outside and run power cords inside.
Maintain Gas Fireplaces
Gas fireplaces provide clean heat, but they still could malfunction and start leaking CO into your home. An annual inspection of your gas fireplace will confirm that it is safe to operate.
Confirm That Chimneys and Vents Are Open
Making sure that nothing is blocking your chimney or other vents takes only moments and can prevent a tragedy. Even if your furnace or fireplace is operating perfectly, a blocked chimney forces exhaust to stay inside. Although many chimneys have screens to prevent the entry of leaves and debris, animals can dislodge screens and introduce materials that block the flue.
Chimneys for wood-burning stoves require periodic sweeping to remove built-up soot. A dirty wood stove chimney increases the risk of CO leaking into your room.
Modern, high-efficiency gas furnaces often employ a small vent and intake that exits the side of a house. Objects could block these vents and endanger you because combustion exhaust cannot exit the building.
A Warning About Chemical Solvents
Solvents that contain methylene chloride can expose you to CO as well. Paint strippers and varnish removers may contain this chemical. You should avoid using large quantities of these products inside. If you must, be sure to open the windows. Breathing the fumes from methylene chloride causes your body to break down the molecule and release CO into your system. Ideally, you will restrict your use of these products to outdoor settings.
Stay Safe and Comfortable
Homeowners rely on Honest Air Conditioning to keep their homes cool in the summer and cozy in the winter. We provide full-service repairs, installation, and maintenance of air conditioners, furnaces, and heat pumps. As we do our work, we pay close attention to the technical details necessary to maintain safety. We’re fully trained to comply with safety standards for electrical and gas connections on all makes and models of equipment. Contact us about any of your heating and cooling concerns today.