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How to detect and prevent carbon monoxide leaks

Carbon monoxide can be a serious problem for homeowners. Overexposure to this invisible, odorless, poisonous gas can cause flu-like symptoms, serious sickness or and even death.

Nine out of ten carbon monoxide accidents (excluding fires) happened in homes — not in commercial or industrial buildings. Preventing accumulation of the gas in your home is the best way to keep your family safe.

Sources and danger of CO

Any appliance in your home that burns fuel (gas furnace, gas stove, gas hot water heater) creates carbon monoxide during the burning process. Liquid fuel space heaters (such as kerosene heaters) and wood stoves can also contribute. Pictured is a water heater with a negative slope on the vent piping. This caused a backdraft of carbon monoxide which rusted the top of the water heater. This is one example of a carbon monoxide leak.

Detecting carbon monoxide

The only sure way to know if carbon monoxide is building up in your home is to install a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide detectors are available at your local hardware store and should be installed on each floor of your home, especially near bedrooms. If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, immediately move to fresh air and call 911.


Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning requires a bit of mindfulness, but most of these tips are straightforward and part of common homeowner safety:

  • Never leave your car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.

  • Don't try to repair appliances that burn fuel such as a furnace, dryer, or hot water heater — leave that to the experts. Faulty venting or ductwork leads to carbon monoxide inside your house.

  • If you need extra heat in your home, don't use a gas range or oven. Purchase a UL-Listed space heater and make sure it's vented correctly.

  • Never use charcoal grills or camp stoves inside the house or in the garage.

  • It's a good idea to never use gasoline-powered tools inside the house. If you must, make sure the exhaust is vented outside.

  • Never allow anyone to sleep in a room with a gas appliance that isn't connected to an exterior vent.

Routine inspection

For an extra measure of safety, have the following items inspected annually:

  • Heating system/furnace

  • Water heater

  • Vents/chimney

  • Fireplace/wood stove

greenfield certified home inspector, home inspector greenfield

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