Carbon monoxide (abbreviated CO) is a tasteless, odorless, invisible gas that is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Full combustion produces carbon dioxide, the same gas we exhale as we breathe. The difference is huge.
The risk of incomplete combustion is present in home heating systems, regardless of age. It’s vital to know if your furnace may be putting excessive CO in the air you breathe, and how you can keep that from happening.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the USA.
Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu but without a fever. They include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. These symptoms begin in most healthy people when CO levels in the air reach about 70 parts per million.
Prolonged exposure to levels 150 – 200 parts per million will cause severe symptoms, including mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and even death. Because of the similarity of CO poisoning symptoms to those of flu, accurate diagnosis can be difficult.
What To Do About CO Problems
CO detectors are the best way to monitor CO levels in your home, so you will know if a problem may be developing. Most HVAC contractors sell and install digital detectors that monitor your whole house for CO levels and present the information in easy to read displays.
If you don’t have a CO detector, and you believe you may be experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately. Then get a medical diagnosis – which can be more difficult than you may expect.
Misdiagnosis of CO poisoning can occur because of the similarity to flu symptoms, especially in cases of prolonged exposure to slowly developing problems in home heating systems.
A small amount of carbon monoxide is present in most homes, but a number of things can raise levels dangerously high, including:
- Incorrect air/gas mix in burners
- Improper venting that may cause air to enter the burner from the wrong direction
- A malfunction in the furnace
- Damaged or broken parts, such as a cracked heat exchanger
- Improper installation
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Problems
CO alarms are helpful, but no substitute for preventive measures. The most important step a homeowner can take is to have annual inspections of heating equipment by trained HVAC professionals. They know what to look for, such as damaged or non-standard parts, as well as dirt buildup that can restrict air flow.
To ensure safe, efficient operation of your furnace, call us at 469-854-8667 to get Mascot Mechanical’s Furnace Service for your heater. We’ll make sure it’s running safely and at top efficiency to save you money, too.