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Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Leaks from your Furnace

Any fuel-burning device in your home can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. In this article, we discuss where carbon monoxide leaks can happen in your furnace and prevention strategies to help prevent you and your family from becoming exposed.

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Leaks from your Furnace

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Olivia Minnier


June 24th, 2022

You’ve probably heard or seen stories about those who have died of carbon monoxide poisoning from leaving their car running or heating their home with a gas stove. But did you know that the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen with your HVAC system?

Certain parts of your HVAC system can crack or break, leading to a carbon monoxide leak inside your home. But, first, we’re going to address what carbon monoxide even is and why exactly it’s just so dangerous for you and your family.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide is a gas that is formed from the incomplete combustion of carbon. It is lighter than air and is released naturally during certain events in nature, such as a forest fire; it can also be released through processes that we as humans have created. Fumes from small engines, such as a lawn mowers, cars and gas stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces all cause a carbon monoxide release.

This gas is odorless, tasteless, and invisible, giving it the name the “silent killer.” Exposure to this gas can be toxic and even deadly. Each year carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 430 people nationally, according to the CDC. Approximately 50,000 people go to emergency rooms each year for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide can leak from your furnace without your knowledge, which makes regular maintenance by a trained HVAC technician even more important, as the average homeowner is not capable of preventing these leaks. However, there are common areas where these leaks occur that you can be looking for when there’s an issue with your system.

Where Carbon Monoxide Leaks Can Come From

The familiar sources of carbon monoxide leaks from a furnace inside your home include:

Cracked Heat Exchanger

A heat exchanger is a thin metal shield between the combustion chamber and the blower that transfers heat from the furnace to the air ducts and then through your home. If this becomes cracked, it can be hazardous and cause CO to leak through your vents. Noticeable cracks upon inspection, worn areas, strange smells, or water collecting around the furnace can all be signs of a cracked heat exchanger. If you have any of these, turn off your furnace and call a technician to prevent CO from leaking into your home.

Leaking Seams

Seams on your HVAC can leak in various places, including on your air ducts, on the platform, and others. These can cause the air to leak and, in turn, carbon monoxide.

Cracks in the Exhaust Pipes

The exhaust pipe on your HVAC system can crack and cause leaks in your system.

Incomplete burning

Incomplete burning means that the flame from the gas isn’t getting sufficient enough combustion air to complete the burn, which can result in excess carbon dioxide being present.

Fire & Ice will always test the air for the presence of carbon monoxide when we do your furnace inspection.

However, even with regular maintenance, there are precautionary measures the homeowner can take to prevent carbon monoxide leaks.

Seven Ways to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks

There are important precautions you can take to help prevent carbon monoxide from leaking inside of your home.

  • Do not use portable flameless chemical-based indoor heaters
  • When buying gas equipment, only buy equipment that has a seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories.
  • Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly and safely. Water heaters and other appliances should have vent pipes that are horizontal and go up slightly as they go towards the outside of your home. This should prevent CO from leaking out in case the joints are not fitted properly.
  • If your home has a chimney, have it checked and cleaned once a year by a qualified professional.
  • Do not create a patch for a vent pipe with tape, gum, or another substance, and call a qualified professional if you find any issues.
  • Do not burn charcoal inside your home.
  • Point all generators away from your home and do not operate them inside or within 20 feet of any door, window, or basement.

In addition to taking these steps, buying carbon monoxide detectors and monitors is a great way to help prevent issues and be aware of a CO problem before it becomes dangerous.

What is a Carbon Monoxide Detector, and How Does it Work?

A carbon monoxide detector will beep when it detects levels of carbon monoxide inside the home. The sooner it beeps depends on the concentration of the carbon monoxide. A low level of carbon monoxide, around 50 ppm, might take 8 hours to register a beep. At a higher concentration of carbon monoxide, like 150 ppm, a beep might register within minutes. Typically the device will not quit beeping until it is moved away from the area containing the carbon monoxide.

You should also get multiple carbon monoxide detectors to have on different levels of your home.

How many Carbon Monoxide detectors should I have?

Your home should have carbon monoxide detectors installed. It is recommended that one is placed on at least one on each floor of the house and near each bedroom. If the home has an attached garage, put a detector either in the garage or inside the house at the entrance door. A vehicle left idling in the garage can quickly fill the home with CO gas.

Adding Carbon Monoxide Monitors

A proactive way to take carbon monoxide safety one step further is to add carbon monoxide level monitors. A CO monitor measures the level of CO gas constantly, so you are aware when the level increases. Research shows non-lethal levels of carbon monoxide can cause health problems with long-term exposure.

Remember, detectors only sound an alarm when the CO levels are dangerously high, so remember to check your monitor frequently and make sure it is on and operating correctly.

Carbon monoxide detectors are also affordable with models as low as $20. Carbon monoxide monitors or meters can be more expensive, but a basic model is around $100.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The most important signal of carbon monoxide poisoning is your body. If you educate yourself about the symptoms, they can be used as a guideline.

According to the CDC, When you breathe in carbon monoxide, it displaces the oxygen in your blood. As the oxygen levels get dangerously low, there is damage to muscles, organs, and the brain.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Physical weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning in someone else, move the victim into the fresh air and immediately call 9-1-1.

Using a Reliable Contractor

Carbon monoxide leaks can also be a result of improper furnace installations. Do your homework when purchasing a furnace and use only reputable, licensed HVAC contractors.  When you look to hire any contractor for your home, ask about training certifications and for proof of said certifications.

There’s a certain level of training that any technician must complete to safely and legally work with all elements in HVAC service and installation. Beyond that, however, there’s still much more to learn.

At Fire & Ice, a large number of our technicians are NATE (North American Technician Excellence) which is considered the gold standard of HVAC certifications. You can use NATE’s online verification tool to check a contractor’s certification and make sure it’s valid.

Continuing Education

Another essential item to be on the lookout for is continuing education standards for the company or contractors you are hiring to do work inside your home. Do they have ongoing education standards? Are their licenses and certifications up to date? These are all critical questions to consider when looking at potential companies.

At Fire & Ice, our office has Central Ohio’s largest HVAC training center. Our technicians have 200+ hours of continuing education in our facility each year and any outside certifications they’re pursuing.

Is there continuing education at some other companies? Sure, but not all of them.

Another essential factor to consider is whether or not the employees at the company you are considering are hourly or paid by the job, W2’d employees or non-W2 employees. Unfortunately, when you lack W2’d employees, there’s no way to mandate or track progress for continuing education standards.

Employee Standards & Care

When hiring a contractor for your HVAC repair, also consider how that company treats its employees. This is a reflection of the company. But more than that, how it incentivizes and holds employees accountable has implications for customers.

So let me ask you a question: would you rather have a furnace installation by someone who is being paid by the job or by the hour? The worst-case scenario is that one could rush the job, and the other could take too long. However, we’ve found that these concerns pale in comparison to the cost of a poor repair or installation. Making sure the job is done right is the most important thing.

Fire & Ice only pays by the hour. There’s no incentive to rush through a job, only to do it right.

Additionally, we provide financial incentives for jobs that don’t have callbacks. If something isn’t done properly in service or installation and we have to send someone back out to correct it, the technician does not receive the bonus.

Which would you rather have in this scenario, a W2’d employee who works for a single company or one who contracts their work out on a job-by-job basis?

In the latter situation, where’s the accountability? If a company installs your air conditioner, but the actual installer is independent, they’re not held accountable to the company or their brand reputation.

Fire & Ice only employs full-time, W2’d employees who are covered under the company’s insurance, which further protects you and your home. They are held accountable for the quality of the work that they do, not just simply the volume of work.

At Fire & Ice, we ensure everything is done right the first time, every time. If you are not satisfied with an installation, let us know, and we will work to find a solution.

Next Steps to Protect your Safety

If you live in Columbus, Ohio, or the surrounding areas and have questions about carbon monoxide issues with your furnace, feel free to give us a call. Check to see if you’re in our service area using the zip code map below.

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