Do you have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home? If you have a heating system that uses any type of fuel—heating oil, natural gas or propane—you should. That’s because burning fuel produces carbon monoxide—or CO—as a byproduct. When it’s installed and operating correctly, carbon monoxide gets safely vented through your flue pipe and out of your home. But if your flue is blocked by ice, snow, or debris, or if there’s a leak in the pipe, you run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
That risk tends to be higher in winter when the heat is running all the time, and the windows are closed. Since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, levels can build up quickly without you even realizing it.
When carbon monoxide builds up in your blood, it begins replacing the oxygen in your red blood cells. As more CO replaces oxygen, critical organs like your brain, heart, and lungs are starved of oxygen. This oxygen deprivation can cause serious, potentially permanent, injury, or death.
Installing CO detectors throughout your home is your family’s best defense against carbon monoxide concerns. You should have one on every level in your home including the basement, as well as outside all sleeping areas. But it’s also important to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
The symptoms of CO poisoning are often described as “flu-like.” They include:
If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, or if people are experiencing any of the above symptoms and you suspect a carbon monoxide leak, get everyone out of the house immediately—including pets—and call 911.
In addition to installing CO detectors, the most important thing you can do to prevent carbon monoxide leaks is to get annual maintenance for your heating equipment. In addition to cleaning, a tune-up will identify and prevent small problems from becoming big ones. If you’re enrolled in one of our service plans, your tune-up is included annually!
You should also change your air filter regularly. A common cause of CO leaks is the backup of airflow to your heating system. To prevent this, make sure that you keep up with your filter changes throughout the heating season so that your furnace can breathe easily.
For the same reason, you should keep areas around vents clear—don’t forget to check them after storms. When they are blocked by leaves, snow, and ice, your system cannot vent properly and CO will build up inside your home.
While propane has an additive with a distinct rotten-egg smell to help you identify leaks, once it’s burned, the CO produced doesn’t have the odor. If you use propane (for your cooking range, for example) you should also add a propane detector. Never use your gas range or oven as supplemental heating, and never use propane equipment designed for outside use in an indoor or enclosed space. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully.
Don’t forget to change the batteries in your CO detector when you change your clocks—It’s a good time to replace batteries in smoke detectors too! And finally, note that all carbon monoxide detectors, regardless of brand, need to be replaced after five years.
Have questions about your heating equipment and carbon monoxide safety? Contact us. We’re happy to answer all your questions.