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The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide From Furnace Leaks

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Furnaces, HVAC

Action Furnace provides comprehensive HVAC services in Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer. Learn how to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and prevent it from occurring in your home with this guide from our team of expert technicians.


Posted by Ryan | October 31, 2023

Your furnace provides essential heating in cold weather, but keeping it properly maintained is vital for preventing potentially dangerous gasses from leaking out while it runs.

In this article, our team at Action Furnace breaks down how carbon monoxide—a deadly and odourless gas—can escape from your furnace. We’ll also cover the health risks it poses and show you how regular furnace tune-ups can prevent these leaks, ensuring the safety of your household.

Burner flames for gas burner in home as potential cause of carbon monoxide buildup

How Furnaces Produce Carbon Monoxide

Running your furnace during the cold Alberta winters is pretty much a given—but the combustion process that provides warmth can also produce dangerous gases. Here’s how:

  • When you turn on your heating system, natural gas is delivered to the burners.
  • The burners then ignite, producing a controlled blue flame that heats the heat exchanger.
  • As natural gas is burned over time, it produces exhaust fumes. These fumes contain carbon monoxide.

Under normal and safe operating conditions, these exhaust fumes are channeled out of your home through the furnace exhaust system. It’s only when there are problems with your furnace that these fumes can build up in your home instead—creating a dangerous emergency situation.

Why Carbon Monoxide Hazards Occur

For the most part, modern furnace systems are designed to operate safely. However, like all machines, they can malfunction, especially if they are not maintained regularly. Here’s a look at some of the most common causes of carbon monoxide hazards in furnaces:

Obstructions in the Chimney

Bird nests, dead animals, or other debris can block the chimney, restricting the flow of exhaust fumes out of your home. This can cause carbon monoxide to build up indoors.

Corrosion in Ducts & Exhaust Systems

Over time, the ducts and exhaust systems of your furnace can corrode. Corroded areas might develop holes or gaps through which carbon monoxide can leak, entering your home instead of being vented all the way outside.

Damage to the Heat Exchanger

The heat exchanger is a critical component of your furnace. If it cracks or gets damaged, it can allow carbon monoxide to escape into your home’s interior.

Inadequate Ventilation

A home with poor ventilation can trap leaking carbon monoxide and cause it to build up in significant quantities, especially if the furnace is located in a small, enclosed space. Proper ventilation can help reduce the danger minor leaks pose by carrying the gas outside rather than allowing it to accumulate.

Improper Furnace Installation

If a furnace isn’t installed correctly, it may not combust fuel properly. Misaligned burners or improperly adjusted valves can lead to an incomplete combustion process that produces excess carbon monoxide.

Mature adult in home experiencing symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning

Health Risks of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Exposure to carbon monoxide, even in small amounts, can be harmful. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms, which can often mimic other health issues.

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Stomach aches
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tension headaches

These symptoms might start off mild, especially with low-level exposure. But prolonged exposure can lead to severe health complications, including heart issues or even a loss of consciousness. If you have any reason to suspect that you or someone in your home is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s essential to leave the home right away and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

HVAC technician adjusting gas valve in home to prevent carbon monoxide leak from furnace

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Leaks with Professional Help

The best way to deal with carbon monoxide problems in your home is to prevent them in the first place. Regular furnace tune-ups by our professionals at Action Furnace can verify the safety of your heating equipment and identify any issues that could cause a gas leak so that you can address them proactively and avoid a dangerous situation. Contact us now to make an appointment for service, or browse the FAQ below to learn more.

FAQ: Carbon Monoxide and Your Furnace

What are the signs of a carbon monoxide leak in my home?

Beyond the health symptoms listed above, you might notice:

  • Soot or brown/yellow stains around your heat exchanger or flue.
  • A stale, stuffy air quality.
  • A burning or overheating smell.

How can I prevent carbon monoxide leaks?

In addition to scheduling annual furnace tune-ups with our professional technicians, Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide problems in your home:

  • Replace Furnace Filters Regularly: A clogged or dirty filter can hinder furnace efficiency and lead to problems. As a rule of thumb, replace your filter every 90 days, although this can vary based on filter type.
  • Use Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Install detectors in rooms with fuel-burning appliances. Ensure they have working batteries and test them regularly.

What should I do if I suspect a carbon monoxide leak?

If you believe there’s a leak, leave your home immediately and contact emergency services. They are equipped to handle carbon monoxide situations and can provide necessary medical attention.

How can Action Furnace help prevent carbon monoxide risks?

Our team provides thorough tune-ups, which include checking the following areas for potential signs of damage and issues that could lead to carbon monoxide leaks:

  • Vents
  • Safety valves
  • Ductwork
  • Heat exchangers
  • Burners
  • Pilot lights
  • Other gas appliances

When you book a tune-up with Action Furnace, we also replace your old filter and provide a year’s supply.

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Written by Ryan Tutak

Ryan is considered one of Calgary's most knowledgeable residential HVAC specialists. Working in the industry for over 12 years, he's helped thousands of homeowners with their heating and cooling systems. Outside of running Calgary's most reputable HVAC business, you can find him on the Golf course practicing his short game or traveling with his family. His main goal is to create a positive collaborative culture, one in which his employees are excited to come in and are motivated to work hard. He spends the majority of his day working directly with Home Comfort Advisors, Service and Maintenance Technicians, and Customer Service Representatives ensuring they are fully prepared to lead the Home Service Industry in Customer Service.

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