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The Reliable

Carbon Monoxide & Air Conditioners: What You Should Know

If you think your home has a carbon monoxide leak, get outside and call 911 for help.

While air conditioners can't create carbon monoxide (like gas-powered furnaces or boilers can), they can help circulate it throughout your home if you already have a carbon monoxide leak.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause serious injury or even death if overexposed. For that reason, regular tune-ups of your HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system are recommended to help keep your family safe.

In this article, we'll go over:

  • What causes carbon monoxide
  • How air conditioners can disperse carbon monoxide
  • Dangers of carbon monoxide exposure
  • How to reduce carbon monoxide exposure

Want to prevent carbon monoxide in your HVAC system? Call Reliable Heating & Air at (770) 594-9969 or schedule an appointment.

We'll tune up your air conditioner or furnace to make sure it's running optimally. We'll also give you the same 5-star customer service Atlanta residents have been getting for the past 40 years.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a chemical produced when combusting fossil fuels such as natural gas, propane, gasoline, kerosene or oil, and others. Small amounts of carbon monoxide are natural and not dangerous to people.

Carbon monoxide can accumulate in your home from fossil fuel-powered appliances and equipment, including:

  • Stoves
  • Water heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Boilers
  • Room heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Automobiles
  • Lawn mowers and other lawn equipment
  • Barbecue grills

These fossil fuel-powered home appliances are connected to a vent stack or series of vents that safely divert the fumes outside your home, where they're absorbed or dissipate into the atmosphere. When these vents become obstructed or cracked, they allow the gas to escape and potentially accumulate in your home, attic, or crawl space.

Common sources of carbon monoxide exposure from HVAC systems include:

  • Cracked furnace heat exchanger. The constant expanding and contracting of metal heat exchangers in furnaces can cause them to crack over time. Large cracks can cause carbon monoxide to escape into your home.
  • Improper ventilation. This prevents the fumes (and carbon monoxide) from properly and safely being expelled from your home. Improper ventilation can happen for several reasons, including:
    • Blocked chimneys or vent pipes. You may have a venting issue if you notice rust or condensation on the chimney or vent pipe.

    • Incorrect exhaust pipe installation. Vent pipes should be vertical or have an upward slope, have minimal bends, and have proper width to safely expel fumes. A downward slope or multiple bends can create too much resistance and force the carbon monoxide back into your home.

Carbon monoxide can be an even bigger problem when it's dispersed throughout your home via the HVAC system.

How Air Conditioners Can Disperse Carbon Monoxide

Since air conditioners don't burn fuel to cool your home, they can't produce carbon monoxide. In terms of HVAC systems, only gas-powered systems (furnaces, boilers, etc.) can create carbon monoxide.

That said, if you have an appliance that's causing carbon monoxide to leak into your home's attic or crawlspace, the carbon monoxide could potentially get sucked into the HVAC ducts through gaps, cracks, or holes. Your air conditioner would then send the carbon monoxide through the vents and into your home.

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Exposure

You can tell you have a gas leak if your furnace smells like rotten eggs or sulfur, but carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless—which means you can't smell it when it's accumulating in your home. This exposure can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Common carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include flu-like symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Exhaustion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pains

Excessive exposure to carbon monoxide can result in passing out or even death. Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially dangerous for people sleeping because they don't show symptoms beforehand.

How to Reduce Carbon Monoxide Exposure

The best things you can do to prevent your family from carbon monoxide exposure is to:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. Good spots are in bedrooms and other rooms where people might sleep, since carbon monoxide is most dangerous for those sleeping. You'll also want to make sure you test the detectors and replace batteries annually.
  • Get your HVAC system tuned up regularly. Annual air conditioner tune-ups and furnace tune-ups include a check of your entire system to make sure it doesn't have any damage and all components are running as they should. Tune-ups not only ensure your system is running safely and efficiently to avoid carbon monoxide exposure, but also helps catch minor issues before they can become expensive repairs.
  • Have your ductwork inspected. Ducts can develop tears, holes or gaps over time. If your ducts have been inspected in a few years, you may want to have them inspected. If they're damaged, a professional will perform a duct sealing, which will prevent your air conditioner from circulating carbon monoxide in attics and crawl spaces. It will also help your AC run more efficiently, likely lowering your electric bill, too.
  • Run automobiles and other gas-powered equipment (like lawn mowers) outside. Running them in a closed garage allows the carbon monoxide to accumulate in the enclosed space, where people can inhale it.
  • Use a gas or charcoal grills outside where there's plenty of open air for smoke and fumes to escape. Using grills in an enclosed area lets the smoke, fumes and carbon monoxide build up dangerously.
  • Follow manufacturer's operating instructions and precautions when using a space heater. Some space heaters are gas powered and require good ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide exposure.

Think you have a carbon monoxide leak?

If you think your home has a carbon monoxide leak, you'll want to:

  1. Get your family outside as soon as possible.
  2. If it's safe to do so, open windows and doors on your way outside your home.
  3. Once everyone is outside, call 911 for help.

Want to Prevent Carbon Monoxide in Your HVAC System? Call Reliable Heating & Air.

Call us today at (770) 594-9969 or schedule an appointment for a free in-home estimate.

We've been offering the most reliable air conditioner service in the greater Atlanta area for more than 40 years. Our HVAC techs will explain the best ways to keep your home safe and your HVAC system free of carbon monoxide. If you're interested, we'll also go over our maintenance plans to keep your HVAC maintenance hassle free.

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