Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
HEALTH AND SAFETY - All information pertaining to HVAC is based on our professional experience. Any information concerning personal health can be found in the outside sources provided at the end of this post or as cited throughout the post. This issue is important, and our recommendation to anyone with gas appliances is to have a carbon monoxide alarm and prevention measures in place.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas produced when carbon-based materials do not burn completely. It is odorless, colorless, tasteless, and undetectable without a tool to measure the air quality. We're going to focus on gas appliances in your home, like furnaces and water heaters, but CO is also in exhaust from other things like cars and generators.
What Makes It Dangerous?
Carbon Monoxide is most dangerous in closed off spaces. Without a way to spread out, the CO saturates the air and becomes more dangerous as the concentration increases. In the case of your home, it may leak into the air slowly at first, causing sickness. According to the American Lung Association (ALA):
"Breathing CO reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen. It can reach dangerous levels indoors or outdoors... Once inhaled, CO attaches to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Hemoglobin normally carries oxygen throughout the body. When CO attaches to the hemoglobin, it blocks the oxygen the body must have, creating health problems. Many of these symptoms are similar to the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses. So you may not suspect CO poisoning. If symptoms persist, and especially if the symptoms get better after you leave the building, CO may be the cause."
Some of the symptoms they list include headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, vomiting, impaired vision, and disorientation. To see the full list, please follow the link to their page here: https://www.lung.org/clean-air/indoor-air/indoor-air-pollutants/carbon-monoxide. Unfortunately, CO has been named the silent killer. An average of 430 lives are taken each year in the United States because of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Emergency room visits are estimated to be around 50,000 each year (American Lung Association, 2023). Generally, when death occurs, the person passes away in their sleep, or passes out from a lack of oxygen and doesn't wake up.
How Do I Protect Myself?
Because CO cannot be detected by any of our senses, most homeowners do not know they have a CO problem until they get sick. Our technicians use manometers for accurate measurements, but we recommend carbon monoxide alarms for homeowners. These are less expensive and run on batteries. You can find a few options by following these links:
Resideo is a "Greene's Trusted Brand", but we have also had good experiences with Kidde. These alarms do not need to be fancy, but they do need to work. Be sure to do your research and find a reliable brand and model. Similar to the vehicle industry, Ford and Chevrolet both have excellent cars, but they also have the "lemons". It's no different in any other industry- Manufacturer's might have great models, but it doesn't mean everything they produce is a good option. Especially with carbon monoxide alarms, you want to make sure you're putting some thought behind which option you trust. It could be the thing that saves your life.
The best advice we have is to be proactive. Make sure you are wise about how you handle gas appliances. They're more reliable than electric ones, but they do need to be monitored a bit more closely. Carbon Monoxide alarms are a great start, but paying attention to headache patterns or nausea when these appliances are in use is good practice as well.
Annual clean and checks are a great way to keep track of the health of your equipment. CO alarms do not tell you about holes in your heat exchanger or corrosion on the combustion chamber, but a technician can point out these issues during regular maintenance visits. You can learn more about our Service Agreement plans here.
If you'd like to learn more about how Carbon Monoxide can affect you and your family, or how you can be better prepared, check out some of the links below.
American Lung Association (2023):
Johns Hopkins Medicine:
United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA (2022):
Cleveland Clinic (2023):