Most likely, you have heard of carbon monoxide. But what exactly is it? Should I be worried about it? And how do I know if my homes gas furnace is venting carbon monoxide outside of my home properly and safely?
What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is a biproduct of combustion from certain natural gas burning home appliances (furnace, oven, water heater, gas range and more) and even your vehicle (assuming it’s not an electric vehicle).
Should I be worried about it?
While carbon monoxide is, as aforementioned, colorless and odorless. Please don’t let that lead you to believe that it is not dangerous. Carbon monoxide is deadly. And if your homes gas furnace isn’t venting properly. It can end up in the air stream inside your home and yes. It can kill you. Silently. In fact, each year in the US, more than 400 people die from unintentional CO poisoning. More than 4,000 people end up hospitalized and 20,000 end up in the emergency room.
It’s quite scary actually and our goal here is to educate you about the results of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent it to keep you and your family safe. And while carbon monoxide is produced by many of your homes appliances. This article is a bit more specific to the potential of CO leaks from your homes gas burning furnace.
Carbon Monoxide and my homes gas furnace
As a heating and air conditioning technician in southern California. We are taught a lot about safety and rightfully so. When it comes to air conditioning, we tend to focus on efficiency and performance. And while those things are also important to a heating system. If it’s a gas heating system, safety is the main factor. And here in Orange County and surrounding counties such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Gas furnaces are the most common type of heating system we have currently.
A gas furnace burns natural gas and converts that gas into flames which in turn heats a heat exchanger and then cold air is blown over that hot heat exchanger, resulting in warm air being blown into your home. It’s a very old and as of today, relatively cheap way of heating your home. There are alternatives which I’ll discuss later. If your furnace is operating correctly. CO, the byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, will rise through the flue pipe which terminates above your roofline. There are some things that can easily go wrong however so let’s discuss how to prevent that.
What can cause my furnace to leak carbon monoxide?
- A crack in the heat exchanger: This would allow the carbon monoxide that should flow through the sealed heat exchanger to the flue venting to leak into the air stream. Common failures are due to wear and tear and rust in some beach communities. There are two types of heat exchangers used in residential gas furnaces. It’s very difficult to tell which one visually as it is built inside the furnace.
- The first type is called a clam shell heat exchanger. Basically, it consists of two pieces of stamped sheet metal that is stamped together using a metal press. This is a very inexpensive type of heat exchanger and still very common in entry and mid-model furnaces. They are also the most susceptible to failing as it has a seam across the interior and exterior of it.
- The second type is called a tubular heat exchanger. This is a formed piece of metal without any seams. You’ll find this in higher end furnaces typically. And some brands such as Goodman put them in all of their furnaces standard. Smart.
- Improper draft: As mentioned earlier. The CO produced should rise through the flue venting and out above the roofline. Any furnace with a forced draft system should be relatively safe from this being a possibility. But if your furnace was manufactured before 1990. There’s a chance it relies on the principle that heat rises and you just need to hope that there aren’t any blockages in the flue pipe. A natural draft furnace is old and potentially very dangerous. I would suggest shopping to replace this soon. But at the very least. Have it inspected regularly by an HVAC professional.
The best way to prevent your homes furnace from leaking carbon monoxide into your home and causing CO poisoning is to have an up to date piece of equipment that is properly maintained by an HVAC professional. Command Comfort in Los Alamitos has an ongoing promotion for first time residential customers who want a full maintenance and inspection of their homes heating and air conditioning equipment. Command Comfort as part of this inspection would test for carbon monoxide leaks. With the promotion, you pay only $74. You can also have the gas company come out. And you should make sure that your home is equipped with multiple CO detectors. These can be found on Amazon at Home Depot or any other local hardware store.
If you do feel that your homes heating equipment may be leaking CO into your home. Stop using it immediately. It cannot produce CO if it is not running. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please get help immediately.
- Upset Stomach
- Chest Pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pets seem ill
You can call the national toll-free Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222.