How to Test for Carbon Monoxide in Your Home

carbon monoxide alarm
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Carbon monoxide, also known as the silent killer, is one of the most overlooked dangers in homes across America. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, on average, 374 Americans die every year from CO poisoning. Roughly 2,250 people in the U.S. died of CO poisoning between 2010 and 2015.

Fortunately, most homes now have CO detectors in their homes. They can save lives, just like a smoke alarm. If you don’t have one, go purchase a CO detector today!

For those of you without a CO detector, or are worried your CO alarm isn’t working, there are ways to test for this odorless and poisonous gas.

Carbon Monoxide Basics

CO is produced by fossil fuels that have burned incompletely. CO is more common among older furnaces as well as full HVAC systems and water heaters not vented properly. If you have a utility closet housing all these important appliances, make sure there is room for air to vent.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?

While CO gasses largely come from furnaces or other fuel-burning appliances not installed correctly, it can come from other sources as well, including:

  • Gas ranges & stoves
  • Clothes dryer
  • Space heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Generators
  • Grills
  • Chimneys
  • Cars

Homeowners need and use many of these appliances daily. To ensure they’re not emitting dangerous CO gases, make sure they’re installed correctly and are all ventilated properly.

How to Test for CO in the Home

Despite the dangers of CO exposure, there are numerous ways to test if there is a CO leak in your home.

CO Detectors

The best and easiest way to see if there is CO inside your home is via a CO alarm. In fact, most building codes require a CO alarm. If you don’t have one, not only are you putting your family at risk, but an inspector could also flag you and prevent the sale of your home or condo.

Luckily, many brands, such as Kidde and First Alert, have combo fire and CO alarms. It costs roughly $75 to buy the combo alarms, while CO alarms on their own cost as little as $20.

Indoor Air Quality Test

If you don’t have a CO alarm and are worried about CO gasses, HVAC contractors can come in test your air. In addition to CO, they can test for other harmful pollutants, such as mold, allergens, radon, formaldehyde, and much more.

While safety rarely has a price tag, the average price to test indoor air quality is just over $400. You’ll certainly get more and accurate information regarding your air quality, but as you can see, this option is much more expensive than installing a CO detector.

Humidity & Pilot Lights

Rather than testing for CO, there are also plenty of warning signs of CO gasses. First, frequent condensation is a sign of carbon monoxide. Of course, condensation can be caused by a host of other sources, but if it’s consistent in your home, consider an indoor air quality test.

Furthermore, while you can’t see it, CO is a gas traveling throughout your home. As such, CO tends to affect your pilot light on your water heater. If your pilot light keeps going out, or if it emits a strange flame, you could have CO in the house. Again, other issues can extinguish pilot lights, but if this is occurring in addition to frequent humidity, CO could be in the air.

CO Poisoning Symptoms

While CO poisoning is called the silent killer, you do experience visual symptoms if carbon monoxide is released. However, the indicators are very similar to the common flu. Such symptoms of CO poisoning are:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Confusion

While these symptoms are common during flu season. Here are some signs that point to CO poisoning:

  • Everyone in the home is sick at the same time
  • Pets are sick as well
  • You feel better when you leave the house
  • You don’t have body aches but have all other signs of a flu

If you suspect CO is in the air, leave the home immediately and call the fire department or a professional air tester. If you can’t leave the home, open all windows and doors and turn off all stoves, your HVAC system, and water heater.