You probably already know that the utility companies add a scent to natural gas so that homeowners can identify gas leaks and leave the home for safety, but carbon monoxide is completely odorless. It’s also a common by-product created by your furnace and other household appliances. If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, you should exit the home immediately and call 911 before you contact your service provider. Your safety is very important to our team at Sano Heating & Air Conditioning, and we encourage you to reach out to us any time that you suspect you have a carbon monoxide leak or some other furnace issue. Here are a few easy tips to help you keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Common Sources of Furnace CO Leaks

An experienced HVAC professional will need dedicated equipment to isolate a carbon monoxide leak in your home, but all that you’ll ever need to identify one as a homeowner is fresh batteries in your CO detector. You should never attempt to make any furnace repairs on your own, but you should be aware of potential problems. You might notice flickering flames, soot, rust or moisture around your windows or walls. Condensation isn’t always an indicator of a CO leak, but it can cause rust on your vent pipe and mold problems throughout your home. You’ll most commonly find CO leaks within the heat exchanger or your furnace’s exhaust flue.

Exhaust Flue

Your exhaust flue is the round pipe that protrudes from the top of the furnace and extends all the way through your roof to release CO and other contaminants outdoors. The flue pipe is shielded from rainfall, but that doesn’t prevent moisture and humidity from causing condensation inside it. Rust and corrosion can accumulate in places that aren’t visible to homeowners, and they can make their way down into the flue pipe over time. Even treated metal surfaces are vulnerable to rust and corrosion, and the metal flue pipe is often no match for years of excess oxidation and rust.

Heat Exchanger

The heat exchanger is where the magic happens in a furnace, and it’s also one of the most common locations for breaches and stress fractures. As your furnace burns fuel, the heat exchanger converts the exothermic reaction into heat for your home, and the process generates a lot of it. The heat travels through your ductwork to warm your residence, and toxic gases travel through your flue pipe to the outside.

Your heat exchanger is engineered to withstand extreme heat, and it has an operational lifespan of about the same length as your furnace. But as your furnace approaches the end of its operational lifespan, it will predictably be more vulnerable to frequent repairs. An older heat exchanger can develop cracks because of moisture buildup or simply from standard wear and tear. If the heat exchanger is breached, the combustion air will be circulated throughout your house. Heat exchanger cracks can be difficult to detect when they first form, but a trained technician will test your heat exchanger’s structural integrity during your annual furnace maintenance visit.

Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors on Every Floor

Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas produced any time that you burn fuel. We all routinely breathe CO in small amounts from car exhaust fumes or when we drive past work crews burning brush, and it’s relatively harmless in trace amounts. But CO becomes extremely dangerous any time that it concentrates in an enclosed space such as your home. If you have any gas appliances in your home, be sure to install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor as high above the ground as possible.

If you don’t have a hard-wired carbon monoxide detector, be sure to replace the batteries at least every six months. Carbon monoxide alarms have an anticipated operational lifetime of about five to seven years, but you should review the manufacturer’s product specifications for your particular model.

Change Your Air Filters

You’re far more likely to develop carbon monoxide leaks if your furnace has airflow problems. Be sure to change your air filter at least every 90 days and more frequently if you have pets. You might be inclined to spend the extra money on the high-efficiency air filters at the hardware store, but they’re not usually compatible with home furnaces and HVAC systems.

Schedule a Furnace Inspection at Least Annually

A professional furnace inspection is always money spent well, and it’s the best way to make sure your furnace is working properly. Your HVAC contractor will also have dedicated CO detection equipment to help you locate leaks. Your furnace’s heat exchanger is engineered to withstand extreme heat and contain CO and other gases, but it’s vulnerable to cracking due to routine wear and tear and exposure to moisture. If the heat exchanger’s integrity is breached, dangerous CO gases can leak into your home.

One of the most common causes of CO leaks in the home is dirty equipment. Your primary maintenance responsibility as a homeowner is changing your air filter, but you’ll need a professional to address all other furnace service issues. During your annual furnace inspection, your HVAC technician will clean your furnace and all associated components. Any blockages in your flue vent will be dealt with.

Make Sure Your Furnace Was Properly Installed

If you didn’t own your home when your furnace was installed, you didn’t get to choose your own HVAC contractor. If your blower motor was installed incorrectly or if your ductwork was put in improperly, your furnace is at an increased risk to develop carbon monoxide venting problems. Your home inspector or appraiser might not have the right experience and training to spot poorly installed ductwork, but a team of HVAC professionals will be able to confirm that your furnace and your ventilation system were put in properly.

Procedures for Carbon Monoxide Leaks

If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, you should get all people and pets outside immediately. You need to act quickly, but you shouldn’t panic. Once everyone gets outside safely, call 911 before contacting your utility provider’s emergency number. You should not reenter the home until you get the “all clear” announcement from the fire department or other appropriate authorities.

The symptoms of CO exposure include dizziness, headaches and vomiting. If you or anyone else in your home was exposed to carbon monoxide, you will need to go to the nearest emergency room. Even if you don’t have any symptoms or if you begin to feel better, you should make sure that you get the proper medical clearance before going home. Be sure to contact a licensed HVAC repair specialist right away to resolve the cause of your home CO leak.

Sano Heating & Air Conditioning provides professional heating, air conditioning and air quality services throughout Orange and all of Orange County. The customer service we offer is second to none. Our NATE- and EPA-certified HVAC specialists service all makes and models of heating and cooling equipment. Contact us today for more information on carbon monoxide leaks or to schedule a service appointment.

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