During heating season, the threat of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is at its peak, for home residents and all the HVAC pros making service calls. Because CO is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas it’s critical to be armed with the proper CO detection instruments, proactive in their use, aware of the steps to take if CO levels are detected and recognize the symptoms of CO exposure.  


Sources of CO 

Fuel-fired appliances, like furnaces, use combustion to create heat. Because combustion is never perfect, some dangerous byproducts like CO are created in addition to heat. Combustion analysis helps HVAC techs precisely regulate the fuel and airflow to optimize system efficiency – safely delivering the most heat to a space and minimizing the harmful byproducts.  


CO Symptoms and Effects 

Some of the most common symptoms of CO exposure include headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Exposure might also lead to weakness, confusion, and shortness of breath. Anyone having these symptoms on the job site should immediately notify occupants, leave the area, and begin proper ventilation procedures. If the symptoms do not stop, seek medical attention immediately. Higher levels of exposure lead to chest pain, blurred vision and loss of consciousness. In severe cases, CO poisoning is fatal.  


Check for CO 

It’s impossible for a tech or an occupant to know if CO is present without proper instrumentation. To know if there’s CO on a job site, use a “walk-around” carbon monoxide detector when entering the building. The Fieldpiece SCM4 Carbon Monoxide Detector features a fast, electro-chemical sensor that measures zero to 1000 parts-per-million (ppm) CO in real time. For reference, 9 ppm is considered the maximum safe level of exposure over 8 hours for indoor environments and 200 ppm or greater will cause physical symptoms and can be fatal.   

Keeping a CO detector in your toolkit is essential and should be used on every job site, regardless of what equipment you’re servicing because you may not know what other fuel-fired appliances are present. A wearable carbon monoxide detector also provides convenient and consistent monitoring to keep you safe. Carbon monoxide detectors are also recommended in homes to provide an early warning of elevated levels to occupants. 


Get Certified 

Any tech who works around furnaces should get certified in combustion performance and carbon monoxide safety. Many organizations offer certification for HVAC techs to learn about CO hazards, testing procedures and an overview of the combustion process. For example, learn more about the courses offered by the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association 

CO gas is a frequent danger to techs and occupants and should be treated seriously. Ensure all combustion appliances are within safe levels of CO emission and take continuous precautions while on the job.  

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