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Carbon Monoxide 101: What You Need to Know if You Have a Furnace

It’s no secret that carbon monoxide (CO) is dangerous. That’s why it’s highly recommended that each and every homeowner has a working carbon monoxide alarm. Just like a fire alarm, carbon monoxide alarms save lives.

Carbon monoxide is produced anytime something burns, such as wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas, or kerosene. So, unless the air is properly filtered out, it builds up to a dangerous level.

When you purchase a new furnace, the system is designed so that the furnace burners are contained in the systems heat exchanger. Then, the gas is sent through the flue vent and transported safely out of your home. However, machines malfunction from time to time and a furnace – especially one that is not regularly maintained by your local HVAC company – can develop carbon monoxide leaks.Carbon Monoxide 101

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that is also poisonous. So, without an alarm, you’re putting yourself and your family in danger.

According to the latest data released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an average 430 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning occur each year. While this might not be a lot compared to other accidental deaths that occur, it is high considering the deaths were easily preventable.

Prevention is Key

To avoid an unnecessary disaster, prevention is key. In fact, there are numerous steps you can take to ensure you and your family is not exposed to dangerous levels of poisonous carbon monoxide. And the first step, as you probably guessed, is to install an alarm.

Today, you can pick up an alarm at your local hardware store, as well as online. But, with so many models available, how do you know which one to choose?

To help you in the research phase, safewise set up a buyer’s guide to direct you to the best alarm for your home. Today, some detectors are battery operated while others are connected to your electrical system; some are linked to your home automation system and others send text or email alerts. So, depending on your knowledge of electronics and willingness to regularly switch out your batteries, you can scour the various models and see what will work for you.

How Does a Detector Work?

While some models today have various bells and whistles, the purpose is all the same – detect carbon monoxide levels in your home. They all look pretty similar to fire alarms and either detect the gas via a biometric sensor, metal oxide semiconductor, or electrochemical sensor.

It is currently believed that the electrochemical sensor is the best. It will sound an alarm when electrodes added to a chemical solution sense a different electrical current – evidence of the gas. That’s when you know there’s trouble. Silence really is golden.

Placement of the CO Detector

Once you’ve purchased your carbon monoxide detector, it’s time for installation. But, how do you know where to place the detector to ensure it will keep you and your family safe?

It should be kept in a central location near each sleeping area, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA also recommends adding one to each level of the home, as well as linking them all together so that if one alarm sounds, they will all chime to identify a problem in your household no matter which room you’re actively in.

Similarly, if you have a smart home automation system hooked up to your programmable thermostat, you may also receive an alert on your smartphone, depending on the model you chose.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

As previously detailed, a leaking furnace is a main culprit of carbon monoxide buildup, as well as burning fuels. However, there are other items in your home that could also trigger the alarm.

A gas stove, gas clothes dryer, water heater, space heater, generator, and wood burning stove, could all cause a danger poisonous gas leak in your home. Additionally, blocked chimney or flue, operating a grill indoors, and running your vehicle in an attached garage, can also cause your alarm to chime, warning trouble.

Carbon Monoxide Symptoms

With so many ways for carbon monoxide to build up in your home, and electronics and batteries known to fail, how do you know you’re safe?

Unfortunately, since this gas is clear and odorless, there is no way to know if you’re accidentally ingesting toxic fumes until you develop systems. These could range from minor (fatigue) to severe (heart failure). Other symptoms include:
MILD: headache, nausea, vomiting
MEDIUM: throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate
SEVERE: convulsions, unconsciousness, brain damage, liver failure

If you notice the above problems and believe the cause could be CO poisoning, immediately leave the enclosed space you are in, escape to fresh air, and receive medical attention.

Furnace Maintenance

For the most part, a furnace is a hands-off piece of equipment. Your sole responsibility should be to turn it on and off as needed. However, just like any machine, it needs a bi-yearly inspection to ensure it’s running efficiently.

Regular, seasonal maintenance of your HVAC system is just as important and can be serviced at the same time, when you schedule your check-up appointment for your appliances. For winter components, a specialist will check the heating elements — like the gas heat exchangers — in the fall and check on the compressors and heat transfer surfaces (coils) in the spring.

And, just like the energy efficient options you have for the rest of your home if your HVAC specialist finds you are in need of a new furnace, today’s models are highly efficient, meaning they use at least 30% less fuel and energy than past models, cutting your costs and providing added benefits for the environment. They are also significantly less noisy and are better at both producing heat and maintaining temperature, so you are more comfortable than ever.

Carbon monoxide is something you can’t risk. Today, see if you have working alarms in your home and make replacements or additions where needed. Then, confirm any device that could spring a leak, is up-to-date on maintenance checks. These steps may seem simple, but they might just save your life.