Considering how much time you spend indoors, tracking down all the sources of carbon monoxide in your home and checking on their condition will minimize your exposure to this dangerous gas.
What Is It?
CO is a gas that’s formed during incomplete combustion. If the material that’s burning doesn’t have enough oxygen to completely burn, CO is the result. Anything that burns can create it.
Why Is It So Bad?
The CO molecule replaces oxygen in your bloodstream, depriving you of the gas that’s fundamental to life. At low levels, it can make you feel sick, cause confusion, dizziness, nausea or other flu-like symptoms. At higher levels, it can cause fetal damage and distress to people who have heart problems, are pregnant and affect the elderly and very young. Prolonged exposure can result in death.
Where Is It a Hazard?
Any enclosed area where fuel or materials are burned can create CO, including your home and the garage. Consider these sources of CO indoors:
- Attached garages
- Lawn and garden equipment
- Barbecues and outdoor fireplaces
- Ductwork leaks
- Malfunctioning gas furnaces
- Ovens of all kinds
- Vented gas appliances
- Fireplaces and wood stoves
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the air inside the majority of homes in the U.S. contains some of the highest levels of indoor pollution that people encounter. Tighter construction techniques, synthetic materials that emit volatile organic compounds, and leaking CO contribute to bad air. Any problems in the venting for gas appliances can foul your air, and of all the toxins indoors, CO is the most deadly.
What To Do
If your home has a combustion heating system, it’s important to have it professionally serviced annually. The service provides a full inspection of the equipment, including the integrity of the gas connections and the flue. It’s also important for you to check the air filters for the air handler monthly and change them when they’re covered with dust.
Dirty filters slow the airflow through the air handler and can cause the heat exchanger to overheat. If the airflow is continually slow, the exchanger can develop cracks that can emit CO into your home. The repair or replacement will be costly and it’s largely avoidable by keeping the air filter clean.
Duct sealing also cuts the risk of CO poisoning if you use vented gas appliances. When the air blows through the ducts, it can backdraft into your home.
Having your water heater maintained occasionally also eliminates any CO problems it could develop, as well as gas dryers and gas ranges. When selecting an appliance contractor, ask if they use hand-held CO detectors that can show even low levels of carbon monoxide that the appliances may emit.
If you park your car in the garage or use combustion equipment inside it, seal the cracks between the common wall with caulk, along with any holes. The connecting door to your home may need weatherstripping to cut the flow of CO into your home.
The only way to know if CO is present in your home is with a CO detector. The state of Georgia requires all residences to have at least one, preferably placed near the master bedroom. Each level of your home should have at least one and they should all be at eye-level or higher. CO is lighter than air, so it collects higher in rooms.
Keep the detectors at least 12 to 15 feet away from potential sources of CO to avoid false alarms. Placing them away from humid areas will extend their operating life. The batteries inside carbon monoxide detectors won’t last as long as smoke detector batteries, so it’s a good idea to check them monthly.
If you have people in your home who have heart or respiratory problems, consider replacing your gas furnace with a heat pump when your furnace reaches the end of its useful life. In our climate, a heat pump will keep your home warm without the risk of CO exposure.
To learn more about controlling carbon monoxide in your home, contact Byrd Heating and Air Conditioning. We provide HVAC services for the Savannah, Tremont Park and Garden City area.