carbon monoxide exposureThe Sacramento region is rich with many resources, and natural gas is one of them. As a result, many of our clients use gas in their furnaces, water heaters, and even kitchen stoves. Even homeowners who aren’t hooked up to the natural gas “grid” often find themselves using propane in the same way others use natural gas. The result is a whole lot of gas in our region! That can be a really good thing–after all, gas is cheaper than electricity–call it another benefit of the Golden State! And if you’re like our grandma, you swear by using gas stoves and ovens instead of electrical heating coils.

But as HVAC contractors who also service water heaters, we at Bell Brothers know that many of you are concerned when it comes to natural gas in your home. Along with the benefits of this power source come some potential drawbacks, and the scariest of those is the possibility of carbon monoxide in your house. Today we’ll talk about that, and mention a few cases where our clients were very lucky–and should have been more concerned sooner.

Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Just what is carbon monoxide, and why are many Sacramento homeowners worried about it? Carbon monoxide gas is a byproduct of burning propane or natural gas. Just as a campfire gives off smoke, all gas burning can give off carbon monoxide. Note the emphasis on can: just because you’re using gas in your home doesn’t mean your home is filling up with it. In fact, if your gas devices are up-to-date on maintenance and less than a decade old, they should already be monoxide-free! If that’s the case, the small amount of carbon monoxide being released is both natural and safe.

But if the system is faulty and more carbon monoxide is being released than should be, it can have some nasty effects. One of our clients in Rancho Cordova was experiencing dizziness and vomiting in their home, for no explicable reason. This continued for about a week until a doctor brought up the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. The client called us and we told them to stop using any gas for the time being. Later that day, our techs were on the job–and we found a furnace that was twenty-five years old! The ducts and fan were working great, distributing the carbon monoxide to all corners of the home–and the poor client was sicker every day as a result!

Mitigating Potential Risks

You’re probably wondering right now, “How the heck do I stop that from happening to me?” The first step is ensuring all your gas-burning appliances are up-to-date. The general rule of thumb is make sure all appliances are less than ten years old, although the lifespan of these devices is increasing. And if you’ve been on-top of maintenance and repair, an older gas-burning device can last longer than a decade.

Speaking of which–you have been on top of maintenance and repair, right? Filters changed, tune-ups completed, and cleanings taken care of? Preventative maintenance is preventative for a reason, and it’s the best way to make sure you don’t have any issues with your gas-burning equipment.

If you’re very concerned about carbon monoxide exposure, you can always make the switch to electric heating and cooking apparatus. While you may end up with a higher monthly cost to operate your appliances–as well as the initial price of purchase and installation–you’ll get the peace of mind that comes with knowing no gas is in your home. Keep in mind that this is just an option–gas (propane or natural) can be a very safe way to heat your home and water, as well as cook your food. It’s all about maintenance and research.

Signs of Trouble

So let’s talk about how you’ll know if your home has carbon monoxide issues and what steps to take in that instance. There are three big signs: yellow flames, headaches, and of course the alarm going off.

We had a homeowner in Dixon who finally called us. They’d noticed lately that their furnace was burning with a yellowish flame instead of a blue one. But there was still some blue in the flame, so they said “what the heck,” and ignored it. Pretty soon they were having nasty recurring headaches that only seemed to happen when they were home from work. One night their carbon monoxide alarm went off–at last! By that point, things were pretty bad. We weren’t able to fix the problem (a furnace way out of date), but maybe we could have if we’d been called sooner. We were just glad nobody was permanently hurt, and we installed a new furnace in record time.

But we also wish our client had called sooner. They’d have saved a lot of trouble in the long run! Who knows; maybe we could have repaired their system instead of replacing it altogether. The point is, carbon monoxide exposure is nothing to mess around with. Stay on top of your maintenance and tune-ups, and watch the flame on any gas-burning appliances. It’s rare, but carbon monoxide can cost you–and it can cost you a lot more than money. Be aware, pay attention, and stop trouble before it starts.