It just makes sense to discuss the major dangers of Carbon Monoxide with your HVAC company. Any malfunctioning combustion appliance, such as a furnace, water heater, room heater, or fireplace can be the culprit (along with generators, motor vehicles, and anything else exhausting post-combustion byproducts).
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels. CO is often called the “silent killer” and is responsible for the most accidental poisoning deaths in the country. This is serious stuff. And though most people know that high levels of CO are deadly, it is less well-known that low levels of CO are also very detrimental to your health.
What Are the Dangers?
What is the best way to keep yourself and your family safe? First, you need to understand the difference between a CO Alarm and a Low-Level CO Monitor? Those in-the-know often refer to the first kind as a “Death Alarm,” because by the time it actually goes off, the amount of CO in your home is at near-deadly levels. If your CO Alarm goes off, do not check the alarm, do not try to find the source of CO, do not pass GO, Go straight outdoors, and call 911.
Here is a typical Carbon Monoxide Alarm (or death alarm). These can be picked up at nearly any general store for about $15-$40. If your CO alarm cost somewhere in that ball park, you have reason to be concerned.
Research shows that long-term exposure to low-levels of CO can cause permanent brain damage and neurological damage. It can also compound many health problems such as heart and lung disease, anemia, diabetes, asthma, depression, and learning and concentration problems.
Some people are more susceptible to CO poisoning, such as: children, fetuses, those with compromised immune systems, and the elderly. Many of these people also happen to be those who are at home the most. It is understood that indoor air quality is already usually much more polluted than outdoor air, but if you have an unknown low-level CO leak, your air quality could be in seriously bad shape.
What Can You Do?
- Install at least one low-level CO Monitor like the one pictured here. These usually cost between $125 and $200. Your HVAC professional should have these available. It should be installed at eye-level and battery powered in case of a power-outage.
- Maintenance. The importance of following guidelines for yearly (or more frequent in some cases) maintenance on your appliances cannot be underestimated. Be sure to ask your technician to check CO levels with an electronic CO Analyzer. Also ask for an inspection and leakage test on the heat exchanger. It’s also a good idea to have your chimney inspected as a possible source of CO problems. Lastly, be sure all appliances are venting to the outside of your home.
- Check your garage. Cars emit huge levels of dangerous CO, so having an attached garage is usually not a healthy thing. Unfortunately, many people have attached garages. So, there are a few things you can do (short of detaching your garage). First, do not let your car idle in the garage. At all. Even with the garage door open. CO can still get trapped, and still infiltrate your home. Next, have your garage tested for air leaks into living space and seal seal seal! Last, you can install an exhaust fan in the garage to force out those toxic gases.
If you are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, call your HVAC contractor and they can walk you through all of the CO safety precautions. But either way: DIY or through a contractor, it is really important to double check this critical health and safety issue for yourself and your family.
Check out this very informative video about Carbon Monoxide.