Your Furnace & the Danger of Carbon Monoxide

Many people throughout California depend on a furnace to help them stay warm during the frigid winter months. Furnaces have been one of the preferred sources of heat in homes for centuries—in the early days they were fired by wood, and then goal, and later on gas and steam provided warmth for our structures. Today, furnaces are more fuel-efficient and effective at heating our homes than ever before thanks to advancements in technology, however the underlying principle on which they work has remained the same.

Furnaces work by burning a source of fuel to create heat. This heat is then transferred to the air in your HVAC system through a heat exchanger, where it can then be pumped around your home through your duct system. However, the combustion process has a flaw: it creates exhaust, or leftover gasses created in the reaction which generates heat. In this exhaust is a gas known as carbon monoxide, a gas which is known as the “silent killer.”

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gaseous substance that’s colorless, tasteless, and odorless, which means you can’t taste it, see it, feel it, smell it, or sense it in any way. You could breathe it in and have absolutely no idea until it’s too late. To make matters even more dangerous: carbon monoxide is toxic, and breathing elevated concentrations could be fatal.

However, this isn’t to say you should tear your furnace out of your home and replace it with a different heating source. In fact, quite the opposite: modern furnaces are built with carbon monoxide in mind, and have considerable measures in place to contain the problem. Todays furnaces are safer for you and your family than ever before, and carbon monoxide problems are extraordinarily rare. In fact, you put more carbon monoxide into the air in your home when burning a candle on a table than you do with an average heat cycle when your furnace is working properly. But that being said, the risk is still there and it’s one you should know about in order to recognize if there’s a problem.

Containing Carbon Monoxide

When it comes to carbon monoxide containment and disposal, your furnace is built with an exhaust vent which leads from your combustion chamber out of your home through a small vent pipe in your roof. Exhaust is naturally extremely hot, which means it becomes lighter than air and rises upward in any space it occupies. When the exhaust tube is attached to the top of your combustion chamber, the exhaust floats upward and straight out the vent in your roof into the atmosphere.

When carbon monoxide escapes your home, it reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere to become carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a totally normal part of the air around us, and one which plants use for their own nutrition (a reaction which, appropriately, outputs pure oxygen). So long as your furnace is in good condition, you have nothing to worry about and it’s entirely designed to contain the exhaust from the fuel burning process.

However, it’s still important to prepare for a carbon monoxide emergency, especially because you may not even know you’re in trouble until it’s too late. The first proactive step you can take for prevention is to purchase a carbon monoxide detector and place it close to your furnace. Carbon monoxide detectors are machines which are designed to sense levels of this dangerous gas in the air, and then warn you when they detect elevated levels. Generally you can purchase one of these detectors for just a few dollars, and they can often last for months on a single 9v battery, which means you can place them nearly anywhere, even areas which don’t have power normally.

Second, you should have your furnace inspected once a year. A furnace inspection includes a comprehensive exam of your combustion chamber, heat exchanger, and exhaust vent in order to make sure that these important components are all sealed. If these components have cracked or shifted as a result of settling, wear, or other factors, your technician can repair the flaws or at least notify you of the issue so you can plan on getting the issue resolved.

Schedule your furnace inspection and tune-up service before the weather gets too cold! Call John Owens Services, Inc. at (415) 942-6565 today to request your consultation.