To keep you and your household warm, gas furnaces are routinely burning fuel in a combustion process. Carbon monoxide, which is a very harmful, invisible gas, is a natural byproduct of this combustion. Most of the time, this carbon monoxide isn’t something you need to be concerned about. This is the case because when your furnace is operating correctly, that noxious gas is safely contained in the appliance’s heat exchanger. After it’s produced, this gas then travels through the furnace’s flue pipe to be vented out of your home. Unfortunately, there are cases in which enough of this carbon monoxide to harm you can escape from the heating system. The most common source of this is a damaged heat exchanger or flue pipe, and that damage can be caused by several different things.
You may be wondering whether there’s anything you can do to ensure that this gas doesn’t have a chance to leak into your home, and the answer is yes. If you take the proper precautions, you can greatly reduce the odds of carbon monoxide ever escaping your furnace and putting your health at risk.
Keep Up With Regularly Scheduled Furnace Maintenance
There are many reasons why you should schedule professional furnace maintenance at least once a year, and avoiding carbon monoxide leaks is a big one. In addition to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the appliance, these tune-ups will also give a trained technician the chance to inspect your heating system for any damage or red flags. For one thing, they’ll be able to confirm that your heat exchanger and flue pipe are both healthy and working properly. In addition to that, they’ll also be able to check that all other components of the furnace are in good shape as well. While the heat exchanger may have its own problems, it’s also possible for another furnace component to come loose and into contact with it. This is a relatively common cause of a cracked heat exchanger, which is a problem that can lead directly to carbon monoxide leaks.
Have Your Home’s Ventilation System Inspected
Damaged heat exchangers and flue pipes aren’t the only way that carbon monoxide from your furnace can leak into your home. After that carbon monoxide travels through the aforementioned flue pipe, it needs to be removed from your household via your home’s exhaust vent. However, if this exhaust vent or any part of your ventilation system becomes clogged or damaged, the harmful gas can become backed up to the point of leaking into your living space. To make sure you’re doing everything possible to avoid this danger, schedule an inspection of your ventilation system at least once every couple of years. Identifying a clog or problem before it becomes more serious could end up preventing a dangerous situation.
Replace Your Furnace’s Air Filter Regularly
Your furnace’s air filter has a very important job in the heating process. When your heating system is operating, it’s constantly pulling air through the filter before heating it up and circulating it through your household. The filter catches particles of dust, dirt and other contaminants so that they don’t dirty and clog the appliance. When the filter itself becomes clogged, though, it can have a number of negative effects. In addition to weakening the furnace and worsening its efficiency, it also puts you at higher risk for a carbon monoxide leak. This happens because the furnace’s inability to pull air through the clogged filter will result in a backup of airflow. That can lead directly to a carbon monoxide leak, and it can also make a heat exchanger problem more likely due to putting extra strain on the appliance. To avoid this risk, check the status of your furnace’s air filter at least once a month. If you’re able to give it a thorough cleaning, that will sometimes be enough, but don’t hesitate to replace it with a new one when it gets especially dirty or clogged.
Clean Your Home and Your Indoor Air Vents
One thing that can accelerate your furnace’s air filter becoming clogged, which can, in turn, lead to an airflow backup and potentially a carbon monoxide leak, is an excessive amount of dust in your home. If you don’t clean your surfaces of these dust particles regularly, it’s inevitable that they’re going to end up getting sucked into your HVAC filter and eventually clogging up the system. Sometimes, this can create a situation in which changing out the filter every month isn’t often enough to prevent an issue. Make a habit of regularly wiping down surfaces in your home with a damp cloth to remove the dust. For things like pillows, rugs and mats, take them outside once a month or so and slap them together.
You should also take the time each month to clean your home’s indoor air vents. These are the vents that your furnace uses to spread heat into different parts of your household, but they can also become packed with dirt, dust and other debris over time. If these vents become clogged, it can ultimately lead to that same type of airflow backup that makes carbon monoxide leaks significantly more likely. Usually, these vents will have a protective panel that you can remove with a screwdriver. After that, just use your vacuum’s long extension hose to suck up all the dust and contaminants.
The Importance of a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Even if you’re religiously following every precaution on this list, you still want to ensure that your home’s prepared for the worst. If a carbon monoxide leak does happen, having a functioning carbon monoxide detector could quite literally save the lives of you and the other members of your household. Invest in a good detector and make sure to change the batteries before they start to get low. Additionally, make sure you’re aware of the symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide. If you or anyone in your household notices the following symptoms, it’s imperative that they remove themselves from the home immediately and get out into fresh air:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Sudden fatigue
- Feeling unusually weak
Remember, carbon monoxide exposure is very serious and can even be fatal in extreme cases. If you’re exposed to this noxious gas, getting out of the home and receiving medical attention is extremely important for your safety.
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