What Does Carbon Monoxide Smell Like?
May 2, 2021
About 50,000 people are hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning each year in the US, and the health consequences can be long-lasting even for people who don’t need emergency treatment. Luckily, CO poisoning is entirely preventable with proper safety measures and routine home maintenance. Taking the proper preventative steps at home ensures your loved ones will be safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Everyone who has lit a pilot light or used a gas stove is likely familiar with the hydrogen sulfide smell. Many people assume the rotten egg smell is carbon monoxide. In actuality, CO has no odor, and the only way you can be sure if it’s there is with a carbon monoxide detector. Hydrogen sulfide is used as an odorant in natural gas, and while this can also pose serious risks, it’s not the same thing. In some cases, you can have both a gas leak and a carbon monoxide leak, and fixing one won’t always address the other. So how do you know when you have a carbon monoxide leak, and just how serious is it?
The health effects of carbon monoxide exposure
Carbon Monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream and replaces the oxygen molecules. It can cause serious tissue damage and in some cases, death. While this can occur within a couple of hours if you’re breathing in significant amounts of carbon monoxide, long-term exposure over the course of a few days or weeks at lower concentrations can still cause neurological problems and brain damage. Symptoms of CO exposure can include:
- Headache, dizziness, or weakness
- Chest pains and difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Memory issues
- Difficulty concentrating
- Speech problems
- Depression or other mood disorders
While these symptoms may have other causes, carbon monoxide or other gas leaks are likely the culprit if multiple people experience the symptoms in your family, or if they only occur at home. Long-term CO exposure is even more serious for pregnant women— it can result in birth defects as well as perinatal death. Young children are at an increased risk when exposed to CO gas, and they will feel the effects much sooner than adults. If you notice a rotten eggs odor in your home, you need to immediately call an HVAC specialist to check for a CO leak.
Preventing CO poisoning
In order to protect your family from health issues, you should always be mindful of household appliances that use gas and take time for routine inspection and maintenance to prevent leaks. You should only use a charcoal grill outdoors in spaces with proper ventilation, and portable generators should be kept a safe distance from indoor spaces. Additionally, you should ensure your fireplace is well cleaned and maintained if you plan on using it for fires.
Fumes from your car’s exhaust can also create a significant amount of CO in an enclosed space like an attached garage, so you should never leave your car running for long periods of time unless the garage door is open. Without proper ventilation, CO will build up and can lead to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Natural gas and carbon monoxide leaks aren’t always noticeable, which is why you should always use safety precautions. Just like a smoke detector sounds the alarm when there’s a fire, a CO detector can alert you to a carbon monoxide leak. When purchasing a CO detector, it’s crucial to find one that can help you know how to tell if you have a gas leak, especially if you have multiple gas appliances throughout the house. And while these alert systems can prevent exposure after a leak occurs, you should also take preventative measures to keep leaks from occurring in the first place
Your HVAC system and CO
Carbon monoxide is the byproduct of incomplete combustion when gas is burned for fuel in any gas appliance. The HVAC system is one of the most common causes of CO and other toxic air contaminants. Issues can occur when there is a cracked heat exchanger or there are problems with the pilot light or a leak in the gas pipe that supplies it.
Routine maintenance to your heating and cooling system can improve ventilation for added protection against air contaminants, and it can also prevent mechanical issues that could lead to a gas leak in the first place. Ideally, you should have your air conditioner and heating equipment serviced twice a year, once in the summer and once in the fall, before you’re expecting it to run daily.
During an HVAC service, your contractor can inspect your ductwork, furnace, blower, and heat exchanger for damage that can affect the air quality and make any repairs necessary to keep your system running at peak performance. They can also clean dirt, dust, and grime that address wear and tear to the system, add lubrication, and replace any belts preventing your system from moving air. Your contractor can also check the gas meter and any household appliances that generate carbon monoxide.
Quality HVAC Service and Repair in Santa Rosa
Simpsons Sheet Metal offers commercial and residential heating and air conditioning repair for the Santa Rosa area. Our team has over 30 years of experience installing and maintaining heating and cooling equipment, and we can ensure your home stays safe from gas leaks caused by your HVAC system with routine maintenance.
Regular maintenance can save you money on utility bills and equipment failures, and keep your home safe and comfortable year-round. To learn more about how we can help protect your family from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.