Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, tasteless gas produced by the incomplete burning of any carbon fuels such as natural gas or liquified petroleum gas. Your heating equipment may give off trace amounts of this gas, but by design, it vents CO outside, where the gas doesn’t have the chance to build up in your home. However, if you have a carbon monoxide leak in your home, it could accumulate too quickly for your system to handle.
Also called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide can lead to severe health damage without early detection. Prolonged exposure to CO can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, and while many patients fully recover, it can also cause permanent brain damage or death. How do you know if you have a carbon monoxide leak? Here, we will cover the primary signs of this issue and how Wayne Alarm Systems can help you stay safe.
What Does Carbon Monoxide Smell Like?
Can you smell carbon monoxide? By itself, carbon monoxide is odorless. While a CO buildup may feature accompanying exhaust gases that have a noticeable smell, you shouldn’t rely on the exhaust odor to detect carbon monoxide.
When you breathe in CO, it enters your bloodstream and inhibits your blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Because people cannot tell when they are inhaling this gas, accidental exposure to carbon monoxide accounts for over 400 deaths, 20,000 ER visits and 4,000 hospitalizations every year.
Why Is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?
Carbon monoxide can be deadly to breathe and may account for half of all fatal poisonings. When too much carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream, it deprives oxygen to vital organs like the brain and heart. An overabundance of CO may dissipate enough oxygen that you fall unconscious and suffocate. While CO poisoning is reversible if caught early enough, carbon monoxide can do serious damage within minutes and hinder your chances of recovery.
Even for those who recover, acute CO poisoning may cause permanent damage to the brain and heart. Those most susceptible to CO poisoning may experience its symptoms and effects even sooner, making carbon monoxide especially dangerous for young children, older adults and people with heart or lung disease.
What Are Signs of Carbon Monoxide in Your Home?
Since carbon monoxide has no color, smell or taste, it is vital to learn how to spot the signs of potential leaks in your business or home. By learning how to check for a carbon monoxide leak, you can know when to seek help and stay safe. Here are the common signs that you have a carbon monoxide leak in your home:
- Yellow or orange flames coming out of your gas appliances instead of the usual blue flame
- Dark and sooty staining on or around gas appliances
- A stale smell in your home like something is burning
- Pilot lights that frequently blow out
- Fallen soot found in the fireplace
- Build out of condensation on windows near where appliances are installed
- Increased condensation on windows
- Solid fuel fires burn much slower than usual
- People in your home are experiencing common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Your pet becomes ill
How To Tell If You Are Experiencing Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Since carbon monoxide is so toxic, you and your family could be at risk of CO poisoning if you leave yourselves exposed to it for too long. Some resulting changes in your well-being mimic hangover symptoms and may also signify that you may have a carbon monoxide leak in your home.
- Breathlessness and chest pains
- Fainting or collapsing
If you begin experiencing these signs, it is critical to open doors and windows, evacuate your home, turn off your gas appliances, get fresh air, call your doctor and contact a professional to find the source of your carbon monoxide leak.
How Can You Detect Carbon Monoxide?
While CO is entirely odorless, you can still detect it within your home. One straightforward solution is to get carbon monoxide detectors, which resemble smoke detectors and easily install anywhere around your home. Contrary to popular belief that carbon monoxide is heavier than air, CO monitors will be equally effective no matter where you choose to place them in a room.
CO monitors will sound an alarm when they detect traces of carbon monoxide in your home or business. It’s a best practice to place them in any room with a gas appliance, so you’ll need one in your kitchen if you have a gas stove, another near a gas water heater and so forth.
Some CO detectors also have select beeping functions to communicate with you. For example, a specific number of beeps within a given time frame could signal the need for new batteries or the presence of carbon monoxide in the air.
If you have gas appliances, it’s also crucial to schedule annual professional inspections. A trained technician who knows how to test for carbon monoxide can spot signs of potential leaks before they threaten your health and give you expert tips for preventing CO leaks in your home.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Now that you know what causes carbon monoxide leaks, we will look at some of the ways to stop them from occurring in your home or business. Other than scheduling preventive maintenance and service for your gas appliances, here are some excellent ways to prevent carbon monoxide leaks.
1. Know Your Home
You should know which appliances in and around your house are at risk of producing carbon monoxide. Is your furnace powered by natural gas? Are you cooking on a gas stove? Does your power washer require gasoline to run?
Walk around your home and, if you need to, write down all the appliances that fall into this category. Some homes will have several, while others may only have one. However, in these modern times, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t have at least one appliance or spot in your home that puts you at risk for CO poisoning, so make sure you take the time to investigate.
2. Purchase and Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Installing a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector is the best way to prevent carbon monoxide leaks. Similar to a smoke detector, these detectors are designed to measure the levels of CO in your home and alert you if they are too high. Where should you install a CO detector? The best option is to install a CO detector in every major area of your home — your kitchen, living room and bedrooms. It’s especially important to install CO detectors close to any of the appliances you identified as fuel burning.
While installing several CO detectors is ideal, we realize your budget may not allow for you to purchase and install that many all at one time. If you need to spread them out, start by installing one near the bedrooms in your home. That way, your family will hear the alarm if it goes off and have time to leave the house. If you’re able, add additional detectors in the other major areas listed above.
3. Regularly Check Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Once you’ve installed carbon monoxide detectors, it’s essential to maintain them. If they aren’t working, they can’t protect you and your family. A good rule of thumb is to replace the batteries in your CO detectors during daylight savings changes in March and November. By having this regular reminder, you don’t have to rely on your memory or a to-do list to keep these in proper working order.
Carbon monoxide detectors are long-lasting, but they don’t last forever. Plan to replace the entire unit every five years to ensure your home and your family are always adequately protected.
4. Service Fuel-Burning Appliances Regularly
Water heaters, heating systems, gas cooking ranges, gas fireplaces and any other appliances that burn oil, gas or coal should be serviced every year to prevent a break or malfunction that could result in a CO leak. It can be tempting to put off preventative maintenance or assume that it’s fine if it’s working, but neglecting these appliances can result in broken pipes or vents that leak CO into your home.
5. Make Sure Appliances Have Proper Ventilation
Ensure that your gas appliances are properly ventilated. Hire a professional to install them if you can or, at the very least, have them inspected and correct any problems with the ventilation system to prevent CO leaks.
6. Schedule Regular Chimney Inspections
If you want to know how to prevent carbon monoxide leaks with your fireplace, start by having your chimney checked — and cleaned if needed — once a year. This prevents a build-up of debris and dirt in the chimney that can trap CO and send it back into your house. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning with fireplaces that burn wood, always open dampers before use. Keeping wood-burning fireplaces in good repair is essential, just as you should with your other fuel-burning appliances.
7. Practice Safe Generator Usage
Many people rely on generators as a backup source of power after a storm. If you use a generator indoors, it should be within 20 feet of a window, door or vent. Always make sure you have at least one working battery-powered or battery-backup CO detector to alert you if the generator is increasing the CO levels in your home.
8. Don’t Cut Corners
If you discover that a vent pipe is cracked or broken, never patch it with tape or gum. Using these to patch a hole can result in a build-up of carbon monoxide in your home. If you don’t know the correct way to repair these types of pipes, call a qualified professional to repair the pipe and make sure it can safely vent CO out of your home.
9. Never Grill Indoors
Yes, grilling is fun, but you should never do it inside. Charcoal, propane and other gasses used to power grills and camp stoves can release CO and, if used indoors, the CO can build up to unsafe levels. Grilling should always happen outdoors to make sure CO does not build up in your home.
10. Don’t Start a Car or Lawn Equipment in a Closed Garage
This is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of how carbon monoxide can hurt someone, but it still needs to be said. A car should never be started when a garage door is closed. This is dangerous to anyone in the car and, if your garage is attached to your home, it can also send high levels of carbon monoxide into the house, as well.
While lawn equipment such as a mower or power washer isn’t typically as big or powerful as a car, it can still produce unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide that will quickly build up if the garage door is closed. Make sure the door is always open before starting any vehicles or lawn equipment and, if you can, wait to start a mower or other power tools until you bring them out into the yard or driveway.
While following these best practices can help you prevent carbon monoxide leaks, there are no guarantee leaks will not occur. Purchasing a carbon monoxide detector should still be your priority, as these are your family’s first line of defense against CO in the air.
Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector From Wayne Alarm Systems Today
Carbon monoxide leaks aren’t something you can afford to take lightly when your family’s health is on the line. As one of MA’s top security and alarm companies, Wayne Alarm Systems has been keeping homes and businesses safe for over 50 years. We take pride in informing, protecting and providing peace of mind to our clients through our unwavering commitment and steadfast accountability. Contact us or get a free quote today to get one step closer to keeping your home or business safe from the “silent killer.”