According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 400 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year. Most homeowners know that their furnace may emit carbon monoxide, but since this can be a life or death situation, it's important to be armed with as much knowledge as possible about this silent killer. To keep yourself and your family members safe, talk a closer look at carbon monoxide poisoning and how you can prevent it.
What appliances emit carbon monoxide?
Gas and oil-burning furnaces are the biggest culprits for carbon monoxide poisoning. The gas is emitted whenever the furnace burns the fuel. Ideally, the carbon monoxide is vented out of the home through the chimney or vent pipe. However, if there are leaks in the vent pipe or it is not constructed properly, the carbon monoxide can end up in the home.
It's important to remember that furnaces are not the only source of carbon monoxide in the home. Any appliance that burns fossil fuels or wood does emit some carbon monoxide. Your fireplace emits carbon monoxide. Portable non-electric heaters emit this gas, and so do gas stoves, dryers, washers, and hot water heaters. Burning charcoal or propane also releases carbon monoxide, which is why you should never use a grill indoors.
Does a furnace need to be malfunctioning in order emit carbon monoxide into the home?
This misconception is a very dangerous one. Homeowners assume that since their furnace seems to be running and heating the home just fine, they won't have any trouble with carbon monoxide. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is produced even when a furnace is working perfectly. As described above, it is issues with venting, not the furnace itself, that lead to carbon monoxide accumulation in the home. Thus, it is important to have your HVAC contractor inspect your furnace and its vent system annually to ensure safety even if the furnace seems to be working perfectly. A leaky or improperly placed vent pipe may cause no obvious problems other than carbon monoxide accumulation.
What safety precautions can homeowners take to prevent carbon monoxide accumulation from the furnace?
You should always have a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace and on the floor you sleep on so that you are alerted if this gas starts building up inside your home. However, since even carbon monoxide alarms can fail, you'll want to take additional precautions, which include:
- Never block the vent pipe to your furnace.
- Always hire a professional to repair your furnace, rather than attempting to do it yourself.
- Keep trees and shrubs near the vent pipe trimmed so they don't interfere with the flow of air.
- If your furnace vents through a chimney, have it inspected annually to detect blockages.
- Have a chimney screen installed on the top of your chimney so debris and birds do not block it.
What safety precautions can homeowners take with other appliances?
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from other appliances, never use a gas range or stove to heat your home. If you use a gas space heater, always turn it off before you go to sleep. A heater that is approved for outdoor or porch use only should never be used in the home, since it may give off too much carbon monoxide to be considered safe. If you ever use a generator, make sure it is placed outside and away from any opened windows and doors, so its exhaust does not enter the home.
What are the early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?
If you catch carbon monoxide poisoning early, you can save your life and ensure the problem is taken care of before it becomes even more dangerous. Early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, a headache, dizziness, confusion, chest pain, and flu-like symptoms. If you experience these symptoms, make sure you tell your doctor that you think you might have carbon monoxide poisoning. Get out of your home and stay with a friend or neighbor until a heating and air conditioning repair professional can check over your system and ensure it is safe.
Keep in mind that many people have no idea they are developing carbon monoxide poisoning before it is too late. Don't be the next victim of this silent killer. Have your furnace and other appliances inspected, keep your detectors' batteries up to date, and be wary of symptoms.