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How to prevent carbon monoxide leaks with a water heater inspection

carbon monoxide leak

How does a water heater produce carbon monoxide? Simply by being powered by natural gas. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of when fuel of any kind is not burned efficiently. The CDC reports that each year more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, have more than 20,000 emergency room visits and over 4,000 hospitalizations.

Today we’re answering some common questions about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning from your water heater with annual inspection and maintenance.

Basic Facts about CO

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless toxic gas and is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Any appliance that burns fuel, be it wood, kerosene, gas or oil, may produce CO. Appliances are more likely to produce CO if they are improperly installed, maintained or misused. In poorly ventilated areas like cars and homes, carbon monoxide can build up to toxic levels, causing sickness and even death to the occupants inside.

Can my water heater create CO?

If your water heater is powered by gas, yes, it can create CO. Every fuel-burning appliance in your home is capable of this, to include water heaters, furnaces, stoves, generators, etc. However, appliances that run on electricity alone do not emit any carbon monoxide.

The CDC recommends having your water heater serviced annually by a qualified technician to prevent CO leaks.

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Preventing Water Heater CO Leaks

What can cause the carbon monoxide leak from my water heater?

One of the safeguards against carbon monoxide in water heaters is vents. A well-maintained appliance might still not burn 100% of the fuel properly, so that CO byproduct needs a place to go. Water heaters should be installed with a drafting vent that tilts slightly upward and feeds to an exhaust line, which could be on the other side of the wall or connecting to your chimney flue. This prevents CO from leaking if the joints or pipes are not fitted tightly.

By skipping annual professional maintenance and inspection, homeowners have no way of knowing if their water heater is burning fuel efficiently and what they can do to improve its functionality. Even for tankless water heaters, the natural gas line that powers them needs a way to ventilate and dispose of any CO created while powering your appliance.

A water heater inspection from a qualified technician will tell your if your machine was installed properly, if any of the vents are blocked or clogged and if it needs any maintenance done to improve performance.

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Do older water heaters produce more carbon monoxide than new ones?

To be honest, not necessarily. Though modern gas-powered water heaters strive to burn fuel at 100% efficiency, their best defense against it is simply by being new and well maintained. Properly cared for water heaters last between 8 and 12 years, and if they are well maintained, regularly inspected and only used for their designed purpose, you should never have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you don’t know how your water heater was maintained before you owned it, having an inspection done can tell you what shape it is in, and how long it should last you.

carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Should I have a CO detector?

Yes, if you have any natural gas powered appliances you would be smart to have a CO detector as well. Change the batteries on these detectors twice a year when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time. CO detectors should be replaced every five years for optimal safety.

What do you do if your CO detector goes off?

  1. Never ignore the alarm. You might not feel sick or notice anything, but the detector does.
  2. Mute the alarm, do not unplug it.
  3. Call 911 or the Fire Department.
  4. Take everyone outside and do not re-enter the home until first responders have arrived, the home is aired out and the CO alarm returns to normal operation.
  5. Keep the house well ventilated until the source of the leak has been identified and properly repaired by a qualified technician.

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What does carbon monoxide poisoning look like?

Often described as “flu-like” without a fever, symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, chest pain and weakness. CO poisoning is a risk for everyone, however small children, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, breathing problems and anemia are most likely to get sick.

Prevent tragedy with proactive inspection

Protect your loved ones from toxic carbon monoxide leaks and have your water heater and gas-powered appliances inspected and maintained annually by qualified technicians. Schedule water heater service from the professionals at John C. Flood and you can see for yourself why we’re one of the most trusted names in the DMV region for HVAC and plumbing repairs.