Your home’s heating system — whether it’s a furnace, gas fireplace, or pellet stove — keeps your family warm and cozy all winter long. However, your home heating system could pose a danger to you and your family: Carbon monoxide poisoning. As homes become more air tight and new heating systems are retrofitted onto older ventilation systems, everyone should be aware of the risk for carbon monoxide in the home.

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Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be life threatening. The overt symptoms are strong headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, weakness, blurred vision or loss of consciousness. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should leave their home and seek medical attention. Because often the symptoms of carbon monoxide can be as subtle as a headache, all homes should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. If those detectors start to go off, leave your home immediately and call 911.

Sources of carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels, including the wood, natural gas, or propane you use to heat your home. Depending on the type of heating appliance you have, your appliance may either burn hot enough to combust all traceable levels of carbon monoxide, or it will be vented out of your home through a chimney or ventilation system. If a ventilation system becomes blocked, such as from soot, debris, or nesting animals, carbon monoxide can be forced back into your home rather than exiting through the chimney or ductwork. A malfunctioning appliance also can cause a carbon monoxide hazard.

Additionally, in some older homes when newer, more efficient furnaces or stoves are installed, sometimes they are vented through older chimneys or ductwork that is not properly sized for the appliance. That can cause a carbon monoxide hazard.
In newer homes, where doors, windows, and walls are more airtight, heating appliances can have a hard time getting the oxygen they need to properly combust their fuel, which could lead to the furnace, stove, or fireplace letting off carbon monoxide.

Preventing carbon monoxide hazards

The best way to prevent carbon monoxide from threatening your family is to have your heating system serviced annual by certified professionals.

Chimneys should be swept and inspected to make sure they are cleared of any soot or fire byproducts, unobstructed from any debris or animals, and free from any cracks or damage that could allow carbon monoxide to seep into your home.
Heating appliances, including fireplaces, gas stoves, pellet stoves, and furnaces should be serviced and inspected by professionals before the cold-weather season begins each year to make sure that they are functioning efficiently and safely and not producing dangerous carbon monoxide.

An inspection also will examine whether your home’s ventilation system is suited to your appliance. That ensures that the gases created by your furnace, stove, or fireplace is exiting your home properly and that your heating appliance is getting the oxygen it needs to burn its fuel entirely.

Schedule your routine chimney, fireplace, and heating stove maintenance today to keep you family safe from carbon monoxide this winter.