Ideally, natural gas burns in an appliance completely and efficiently, mixing with the oxygen in the air to produce harmless carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor.
But if conditions aren't right, the natural gas won't combust completely, giving off deadly fumes of carbon monoxide (CO).
The dangers of carbon monoxide:
When humans breathe in carbon monoxide, it enters the bloodstream and depletes oxygen from the blood cells.
Exposure is harmful at high levels over a short period of time, or at lower levels over a longer period - overnight, for example. Carbon monoxide can be especially dangerous during the winter, when our homes are sealed up tight.
An appliance could produce carbon monoxide if:
Boxes, laundry or other materials are blocking the base, restricting oxygen flow.
The vent hood, pipes or flues are blocked or corroded.
The unit is installed or adjusted improperly.
It's used incorrectly (i.e., heating a room with a gas stove).
The heat exchanger is cracked.
Natural gas furnaces should be inspected every year; other appliances, such as water heaters, clothes dryers and stoves, should be checked every two years. If you have a natural gas fireplace, it should be serviced regularly as well.
Carbon monoxide detectors
If you have natural gas appliances, a carbon monoxide detector is a must for keeping your family safe.
These devices work like smoke detectors, sounding an audible alarm if a certain level of carbon monoxide (CO) is detected.
The best CO detectors are electronic alarms that notify you if the level of CO is your home reaches 50 parts per million. A digital model will have a display panel showing the exact levels detected.
You can choose from alarms that are battery-powered, hard-wired or plug into an outlet. Keep these tips in mind:
For battery-powered models, change the batteries a minimum of every six months. An easy way to remember is whenever you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
For hard-wired or plug-in models, remember that these won't work during a power outage. If a storm knocks out your power for an extended period, make sure to reset the detector when service is restored.
A CO detector should be installed near living and sleeping areas of your home. Placing it in the basement near the furnace could produce false reading and make it difficult to hear the alarm.