At a glance, your HVAC system and your carbon monoxide detectors might seem like two entirely separate home systems. However, the reality is that these systems are closely connected. Understanding the different ways they can affect each other will help keep you and your home safe.
What Is Carbon Monoxide and Why Is It a Problem?
Why are carbon monoxide detectors so important in the first place? Carbon monoxide is a type of clear, odorless gas. It’s naturally produced from combustion, so it’s a common byproduct of wood-burning furnaces, running vehicles, and gas grills. Outdoors, carbon monoxide is mostly harmless. It dissipates over time and dilutes to almost unnoticeable amounts.
However, if carbon monoxide gets inside your home, it becomes a major problem. The gas can build up over time and replace the clean, fresh air in your house. When you try to breathe and inhale a lot of carbon monoxide, you can get quite sick. In smaller doses, carbon monoxide tends to cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and confusion. Some people can experience hallucinations, forgetfulness, and other mental issues as well. If you inhale more carbon monoxide, you can also experience physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and chest pains. In very high doses, carbon monoxide causes unconsciousness and eventually death.
Another factor to be aware of is that carbon monoxide is highly flammable and has a very low flash point. If it builds up to very concentrated levels, it can become a fire risk. Much like other types of gas leaks, a stray spark can lead to a fire.
Certain Parts of Your HVAC System May Produce Carbon Monoxide
The most important thing to know about HVAC systems and carbon monoxide detectors is that some HVAC systems add carbon monoxide to the air. While the standard electrical air conditioner doesn’t produce carbon monoxide, any heater that uses combustion may produce carbon monoxide. This includes a variety of gas and oil furnaces.
If you have one of these systems, your HVAC will regularly generate carbon monoxide. The only way to stay safe is to have a properly ventilated system. Most building codes will require you to place combustion heaters a certain distance away from bedrooms and vent gas far away from the house. However, there is always a chance of a malfunction or accident causing your system to start releasing carbon monoxide into your indoor air.
In these cases, a carbon monoxide detector is essential. Your detector can warn you that your furnace has malfunctioned, so you can address the problem as soon as possible. If your detectors start going off while your furnace is running, it’s usually a sign that you need to get your furnace or ventilation system repaired.
Your HVAC System Can Spread Carbon Monoxide During a Leak
Keep in mind that furnaces aren’t the only source of carbon monoxide in the modern home. Many people have gas stoves, gas dryers, or gas water heaters that produce carbon monoxide. There is also the chance of your home encountering carbon monoxide from a fireplace, a grill, a car, or any other device that works by burning some sort of fuel.
If one of these appliances starts to leak carbon monoxide, your HVAC system can play an unfortunate role in the situation. Many of these items are either located in or have vents in your basement and attic. These unused spaces can be a little safer if carbon monoxide starts to leak. However, your HVAC system also tends to have ducts going through these unused spaces. If your ducts have a crack, they can pull in carbon monoxide from another part of your home far away and deposit it in an occupied area.
This is part of the reason that it’s so essential to seal leaky ducts. Your ducts have a huge impact on indoor air quality, and if they’re not airtight, it’s much easier for carbon monoxide to end up in places where it can cause damage. In some situations, you can even end up with a carbon monoxide detector going off near the source of the leak, but your HVAC system has already spread the toxic gas all over your home.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors Can Be Accidentally Affected by HVAC
In addition to impacting carbon monoxide levels around the home, your HVAC system can also affect the way your carbon monoxide detectors function. In some cases, a problem with your HVAC system can cause your detector to beep even when carbon monoxide levels are safe. Many carbon monoxide detectors can be triggered by humidity, so if your AC is the wrong size, you can end up with overly humid air that sets off your detectors.
If your carbon monoxide detectors are part of a built-in fire alarm, dirty air can also cause alarms to go off. Many fire detectors detect smoke by sensing fine particles in the air. However, when you have dusty ducts blowing a bunch of debris around your house, your detector can have a false alarm that makes you worry about carbon monoxide in your home.
Your HVAC system can cause both false positives and false negatives for your carbon monoxide detector. False negatives are particularly dangerous because the alarm stays silent even though deadly gas is building up inside your home. How does an HVAC system cause this? The main culprit is a carbon monoxide detector placed too close to an air vent. If it’s right by a vent, it will be measuring the carbon monoxide levels that come from the air vent. During certain types of leaks, you can end up with a lot of carbon monoxide in the air, yet the detector remains silent because the fresh air from the vent is tricking it into thinking everything is fine.
Tips for Protecting Your Home From Carbon Monoxide
As you can see, there are a lot of potential issues to be aware of. If you want to stay safe from carbon monoxide, it is essential to treat your home systems with care. The most important thing you can do is get several accurate carbon monoxide detectors installed in appropriate spots around the house. Make sure to test them regularly and change the batteries as needed.
It’s also essential to get your HVAC systems properly installed by a professional. Good installation ensures that gas furnaces and other items that produce carbon monoxide vent outside. Your HVAC technician can help to seal ducts as well, so there is less risk of carbon monoxide getting pulled into your system. To be as safe as possible, your HVAC installer needs to follow all building codes closely and keep your HVAC system from putting carbon monoxide inside your home.
At Huft Home Services, your safety is our priority. Our technicians undergo extensive training to ensure that they know how to follow all HVAC guidelines. In addition to installing effective cooling and heating services, we can also help ensure your carbon monoxide detectors are properly installed. To learn more about our home services in Sacramento and the surrounding areas, contact Huft Home Services now.