The winter months are upon us, and many questions about carbon monoxide leaks in our homes come with them. The danger of carbon monoxide exposure can be significant during periods of high heat; think of when you’ve turned on the furnace or heater only to go over time because they simply aren’t producing enough heat. But this same risk exists year-round. This article is intended to help you determine whether your home has a carbon monoxide leak and what, if anything, you can do about it if you do.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Your Home
1. Check for Carbon Monoxide Leaks Using Smoke or Steam
Smoke and steam (water vapor) are two telltale signs of a potential carbon monoxide leak. Smoke, commonly known as “smelly,” is a natural by-product of combustion. When the combustion process produces heat sufficient to produce the smoke, the resulting fire is considered “controlled.” A controlled fire produces more heat than would be paid for by burning solid fuel (wood logs or charcoal). Smoke also indicates that carbon monoxide levels are sufficiently high to form an odor and cause a light mist to emanate from cracks and crevices where combustion products exit a room.
2. Detect Carbon Monoxide Leaks using an approved Monitor
There are several ways to assess for carbon monoxide levels in your home. A carbon monoxide detector, which can be purchased at most home and hardware stores, is highly recommended. Ensure you get one approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or an equivalent entity. A word of caution about detectors: there are vast differences between the capabilities of these devices. Some monitors alarm when the level of carbon monoxide in the air reaches a certain threshold. This is just as bad as having no device at all. Another widely used detector measures carbon monoxide levels within the house and compares them against readings from the outside. If classes are above a certain threshold, an alarm will again sound not particularly useful.
3. Use High-Quality Combustion Devices
Use devices that produce hot air or steam rather than those that burn solid fuel (wood logs or charcoal). The heat of the gasses and smoke made when burned hydrocarbons must escape. This can usually be done either through a series of holes in the walls around the fireplace or simply by exhausting through an upstairs vent. The problem with solid fuel is that these products are not as efficient as we would like them to be, and therefore not all of the heat from burning these products is being used in your home.
4. Install an efficient heating system and proper heat distribution
Ensuring that your home is well heated is essential for safety. But there are specific criteria that you should be aware of when evaluating the efficiency of your heating system and the type of equipment installed within it. Make sure you choose a unit (electric, gas, or oil) with a high-efficiency rating. The higher the efficiency rating, the better for you. Heating systems with very high BTUs (British thermal units) will consume fuel more quickly than those with lower BTUs and, therefore, require less frequent attention to the controls.
5. Understand the Difference between carbon monoxide and natural gas
Make sure you know the color of the gas coming from your gas appliances. If a color other than clear to blue is visible, you could have an underground leak of natural gas. Natural gas is invisible, odorless, and highly explosive. There are several common signs of a possible leak. If you smell a “rotten egg” type odor, it might be because of an underground pipeline leak under your home. If there is unexplained water loss, this may indicate that the water table has been disturbed by an underground pipeline leak or rodent activity that has exposed one of the pipes.