Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that kills thousands of people a year worldwide. It is invisible, tasteless, and odorless, making it virtually undetectable to human senses. This is part of what makes it so dangerous. Unfortunately, it also happens to be far more common than you would think. The largest producers of carbon monoxide are natural gas burning furnaces, which also happen to be among the most common types of heating systems. Let’s take a look at how furnaces actually produce carbon monoxide, and why installing carbon monoxide detectors is the best way to keep you and your family safe.
Carbon monoxide is one of several kinds of toxic gases that are all produced as byproducts of what is called “incomplete combustion.” Incomplete combustion simply means that not all of the fuel burned is converted into heat. Regardless of the kind of fuel you’re burning, if you’re using a combustion system there will always be byproducts left over. Obviously, furnaces would not be viable heating systems if they vented deadly gas into the home every time they were turned on. Therefore, it became necessary to construct a part that could heat the air while venting combustion byproducts out of the house. This part is called the “heat exchanger.”
The Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a tube that connects the furnace burner assembly to the exhaust flue. As the burner assembly creates heat, it also creates combustion byproducts like carbon monoxide, which rise up the heat exchanger. The heat radiates through the heat exchanger and into the air being circulated throughout the home. The combustion byproducts continue to the exhaust flue to be safely disposed of.
The problem is that, over time, the heat exchanger can develop cracks from the stress of being exposed to high temperatures. In some cases, the combustion gases can then travel through these cracks and enter the air in your home. There is no reliable way to test whether or not you have been exposed unless you begin to feel the symptoms, which include headaches, nausea, blurred vision, seizures, and unconsciousness. You don’t want to wait until you experience these symptoms before acting, which is why carbon monoxide detectors are your best bet.