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Carbon Monoxide and Your HVAC

Your HVAC burns fuel to create cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Any time fuel is burned, the chemical processes create a byproduct called carbon monoxide or CO. Cracks and leaks, obstructions, and general HVAC malfunctions can cause your exhaust system to fail and allow CO to seep into your home.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no color, odor, or taste. It is produced when any of the following fuels experience incomplete burn:

  • Natural gas
  • Propane
  • Kerosene
  • Coal
  • Wood
  • Oil

CO is so deadly that about 170 people a year die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States every year. Each of the 170 deaths is caused by household, non-automotive products and appliances.

How Do I Detect CO Poisoning?

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to that of a cold, flu, or general malaise and may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

As poisoning progresses, symptoms will become more severe. Look out for more serious and easy to detect signs of poisoning:

  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blackouts

Also look for trouble breathing as a warning sign. If you experience any combination of these symptoms, get to an outdoor area for fresh air immediately.

If not treated immediately, these symptoms are followed by death.

Gradual exposure due to exhaust leaks or a malfunctioning HVAC is characterized by milder symptoms that are easily mistaken for minor illnesses. Don’t take risks – if you begin to feel uncomfortable or sick in your home, have your HVAC system inspected as soon as possible.

What Can I Do To Prevent CO Poisoning?

Install A Carbon Monoxide Detector

A CO detector that meets the criteria of the current UL 2034 safety standard is a proven and effective tool for CO poisoning prevention. Install your carbon monoxide alarm in hallways near every possible room. Make sure the alarm receives the proper air flow and isn’t obstructed by furniture. Test your alarm regularly and replace aging batteries.

Get professional HVAC installation

Have all of your household appliances installed by qualified technicians, including your HVAC system. Make sure that the installation matches the manufacturer’s instructions and complies with your local building codes. If you’re unsure as to the condition of your HVAC installation, call a technician to have it inspected. Get your HVAC serviced annually so it continues to operate as intended.

Leave Maintenance To Qualified Technicians

Trying to service appliances that burn fuel without the appropriate knowledge, skills, and tools significantly increases the risk of cracks, leaks, and malfunctions. Even for minor adjustments to your HVAC, follow all instructions outlined in your owner’s manual and have them checked by a professional.

What Should I Do In a Carbon Monoxide Emergency?

You need to get fresh oxygen into your blood to combat the effects of CO poisoning. If you suspect CO poisoning but are unsure, contact your doctor for a diagnosis. Explain your symptoms and explicitly tell your doctor that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

If CO poisoning is confirmed by your doctor, call a qualified service technician as soon as possible to take a look at your HVAC.

Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm that’s sounding. Remember that CO exposure is extremely deadly and that any fuel-burning appliance can cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home. Stay alert and stay safe.

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