How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Emissions from Your Furnace

As the weather gets colder, your furnace starts working harder. You’ve probably heard of carbon monoxide gas and you know it’s dangerous. However, did you know your gas-powered furnace is a potential source of carbon monoxide emissions?

If you have some basic information about carbon monoxide and how to keep your furnace in good condition, you won’t have to worry about it releasing carbon monoxide into your house.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide gas is the result of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion happens when you ignite something and there’s not enough oxygen around to completely burn off the fuel.

Carbon monoxide occurs naturally in the environment. More importantly for your home, any kind of tool or appliance that uses fossil fuels will produce some amount of carbon monoxide gas. This includes your car, lawn mower, gas stove, gas clothes dryer, and gas furnace.

Carbon monoxide is tasteless, colorless, odorless, and won’t irritate your nose or throat. You won’t be able to detect this gas with your senses alone, so you need mechanical detectors to know if you have a buildup in your house.

Why Is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?

Carbon monoxide affects the way your body processes oxygen. When enough of it gets into your bloodstream through your lungs, it creates a chemical compound that prevents your blood from carrying oxygen around your body.

Small amounts of carbon monoxide are harmless and found almost everywhere. However, carbon monoxide in enclosed spaces, such as your house, can have dangerous and unpleasant effects. You should watch yourself and your family for symptoms of exposure.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?

If you have a carbon monoxide leak in your house, you’ll need to get it checked out as soon as possible. However, while it is dangerous, it’s usually not fatal. Most of the time if you’re exposed, the amounts will be small and you’ll just feel sick.

Common Symptoms

If you have a small carbon monoxide leak in your house, you’ll experience some of these symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Depression

Since many different illnesses can cause these same symptoms, watch to see if everyone in your household feels sick around the same time and has similar complaints.

A larger carbon monoxide leak is much more dangerous and you’ll notice symptoms more quickly. You’ll have many of the same symptoms a small leak would cause, but more severe and with a faster onset.

If everyone in your family comes down with severe headaches, dizziness, and increased heart rates, leave your house immediately for a well-ventilated area. You should also see a doctor as soon as possible.

How Can You Prevent Emissions from Your Furnace?

While carbon monoxide exposure sounds intimidating, if you take proper precautions, you should never have to experience it. To keep your furnace from emitting unsafe amounts of this gas during the long winter, take steps to keep it running well.

Schedule Annual Inspections

Every year, have a certified HVAC technician come out and inspect your furnace. You should do this before the weather gets cold and you have to use your furnace all the time.

The technician will notice if your furnace has any issues that could cause problems. For example, cracks in your furnace’s heat exchanger could let out exhaust gas containing carbon monoxide. The technician will spot any cracks or holes and fix them to keep your furnace running properly.

During this yearly inspection, the technician will also make sure your furnace is in good overall shape and ready to handle several months of continuous use.

Watch the Pilot Light

If you have an older gas furnace with a pilot light, check its color periodically. The flame should burn bright blue. While sometimes it might have yellow or orange spots, a totally yellow or orange flame can indicate improper burning. Improper burning can produce high amounts of carbon monoxide.

Your furnace should automatically shut off the pilot light if it detects a problem. So, if you notice your pilot light keeps turning off for no apparent reason, pay attention to its color and don’t keep relighting it if you spot a problem.

If you do notice your pilot light burns yellow or orange, you’ll need to call a professional to come and assess the problem fast. You should also air out your house and turn off your furnace until an HVAC technician can take a look at it.

Install Detectors

Since you can’t detect carbon monoxide yourself, you should strategically install detectors throughout your home. Detectors should go on every level of your house, near attached garages, and close to bedrooms.

These detectors will warn you if your furnace or another appliance starts emitting dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide gas. However, don’t put one right next to your furnace—it can trigger false alarms.

With knowledge, proper care, and maintenance, you don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide from your gas furnace this winter.

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