Carbon Monoxide in the Home: Symptoms and Causes

Carbon monoxide is often called “the silent killer”. This is because it can be hard to detect. It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. If carbon monoxide levels get dangerously high in your home, it can be life-threatening.

Carbon monoxide is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned. Here are some of the most common ways it can be introduced into your home.

Blocked or clogged flue pipes and malfunctioning fuel-burning furnaces can lead to carbon monoxide in your home. Blockages can be caused by ash, birds and small animals or masonry debris.  When one or more of these things falls into your chimney, it prevents the proper venting of combustion gases. Gas furnaces build up scale, which forms when gas byproducts and moisture combine, and these can block the flue. If you see rust or water streaking on the vent, flue, or on your chimney, something may be blocking the flue. Moisture builds inside your furnace pipes when the air can’t properly circulate, and this can result in rust. Soot can be a sign of this problem. If your furnace is vented through a masonry chimney, look for white residue on the brick. This is a sign that mineral salts are coming through the masonry because too much moisture is inside the chimney. Although flame color doesn’t always mean the presence of carbon monoxide, a change in the color of your flame, such as blue becoming yellow, indicates that the level of carbon monoxide has increased, and this may be caused by a blocked flue.

Other malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances like water heaters, clothes dryers and gas-powered space heaters can also be to blame. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, homeowners should follow all manufacturer guidelines for ventilating gas appliances. Gas clothes dryers, in particular, should be used with caution. If a home has energy-efficient windows and doors, the deadly gas will be trapped inside. To prevent carbon monoxide from posing a threat, it is crucial that homeowners receive regular dryer maintenance and install CO detectors throughout your home. Over time, even a properly installed vent can become clogged with lint. Regular dryer cleaning ensures that a dryer functions safely. It is recommended that dryer duct cleaning is performed in order to prevent both carbon monoxide poisoning and dryer fires. More than 15,000 dryer fires occur each year, and many of them occur due to a clogged dryer vent. Both dryer fires and carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented if a homeowner takes the necessary precautionary measures.

You never want to run your car while it is inside of your attached garage. Fumes emitted from your vehicle can, and in many circumstances will enter the home. Even if you live close to a busy highway, you are at risk every time you open your garage door, even if your car isn’t running. If the garage is positively pressured as compared to the rest of the house, the garage air will try to make it into the house. This can occur through an improperly sealed door leading into the home, through the HVAC system if it’s located in the garage, or if there are vents or leaking ductwork in the area. It can also occur if there are cracked walls and/or ceilings in the garage. Even opening the door to the garage can introduce pollutants into the home. Once your vehicle is started, never let it idle indoors. Move it out of the garage. Make sure your house is positively pressured along with the garage. Also, seal all openings in the walls and ceilings.

In case you need another reason not to smoke, cigarette smoke can also be a contributing factor to carbon monoxide in the home. This is not only harmful to the smoker, but also those around them. Smoking can increase ambient CO levels, especially in an enclosed room, increasing CO exposure for people who are not smoking.

It could be easy to confuse the symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure with the flu or other medical problems. At low levels of CO exposure, American Medical Association says, you might have a headache, feel tired or short of breath, or find your motor functions impaired. At higher levels of exposure, or at lower levels for a long time, symptoms might include chest pain, feeling tired or dizzy, and having trouble thinking. Convulsions, coma and death are possible with high levels of exposure, American Medical Association says. If the levels are very high, death can occur within minutes.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that those with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen (asthma, heart disease, etc.), infants, and pregnant women are at the highest risk of death from CO poisoning. Among the healthy adult population, more men than women succumb to CO poisoning.

How do you know if your home has CO?

According to the National Comfort Institute, you must use the proper testing equipment when searching for CO leaks. A combustion analyzer should be used.

There is a difference between an analyzer and a monitor.  A monitor just tests the CO levels in a house. An analyzer determines if there is proper combustion efficiency, ventilation and fuel-air mixture. You want to know if your furnace is mechanically sound.

A combustion analyzer should always be used during installation and maintenance of appliances. According to Jim Davis, senior trainer at the National Comfort Institute “Sadly, only 2 percent of contractors are trained and certified in the use of combustion analyzers,” he said. “Not one state requires certification in combustion and carbon monoxide.”

Minnick’s is proud to be part of that 2%.

Buying a commercial-grade monitor that senses low levels of CO, and one that has a digital display to monitor CO data in your house can help protect you and your family from the silent killer. Install a monitor close to the ceiling on every floor of your home. CO is lighter than air, thus it rises. Also, be sure to test your alarm each month.

Never ignore your CO alarm! Should you get an alert, follow these steps:

  • Immediately move outside to fresh air
  • Call 911
  • Make sure all persons who were in the home are accounted for
  • Do not reenter the premises until emergency respondents have given permission to do so

Don’t be a statistic. If you’re concerned that you may have questionable levels of carbon monoxide in your home, it is critical that you get help immediately. Our certified, experienced technicians offer professional expertise for all of your indoor air quality needs. Call us today to schedule an inspection of your home and ensure your families safety.