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Fall Furnace Maintenance Tips: Are Carbon Monoxide Detectors Enough?

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Last Updated on July 29, 2015

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It’s no secret that carbon monoxide is deadly. We’ve all heard the horror stories that result from people unknowingly breathing in the colorless, odorless gas. As a responsible business owner or manager, you have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your building, and you probably think that protects you from the danger.

Not entirely.

It’s true that carbon monoxide detectors will most likely protect you from the deadliest outcome: people in your building becoming sick or even dying from exposure to the poisonous gas. But have you considered the consequences of having a scare in your building when those detectors go off? The following fall furnace maintenance tips will help you stay safe in the event of your detectors go off, and take preventative action to ensure they never do.

Fall Furnace Maintenance Tip #1: Know the recommended protocol when a carbon monoxide detector goes off.

  1. Immediately evacuate the building. We don’t have to tell you how difficult and potentially dangerous this could be. You must have the proper security staff and plan in place to prevent panic and people getting hurt trying to exit in a hurry.
  2. Call the fire department. If you have a large building with a facility management system, this may be set up to happen automatically. The next thing you know, the entire street may be blocked as fire trucks converge on your building.
  3. Do a head count to determine if anyone is missing. This can be challenging if you own a retail business. Who can verify exactly who was in the building?
  4. Turn off the heating system and any appliances. If you own a restaurant, think about the result if you had to shut down the kitchen in the middle of the dinner rush.
  5. Open all the windows and doors to air out the space. Many buildings in New York City have windows that don’t open. In this case it will take much longer to clear out the poisonous gas from the building. You may be out in the street for quite some time.
  6. Get a qualified expert in to determine the cause of the leak and fix it. How long will you have to wait (with your business at a standstill) for that technician to arrive, then diagnose and fix the problem? If it happens at night or on the weekend, you’ll be paying emergency service rates.

Obviously, there is the potential for significant loss of business due to a carbon monoxide scare in your building. Not to mention the public relations nightmare when your evacuation is reported in the news and everyone who was there shares what happened on social media.

Having those detectors in place can be a lifesaver, but as a business owner you need to do more to make sure you never have a carbon monoxide leak that can damage your business and your reputation.

Fall Furnace Maintenance Tip #2: Take actions to prevent carbon monoxide leaks.

The good news is, there’s a very simple way to avoid all of this. Have your furnace, as well as vents, chimneys, fireplaces, and any fuel-burning appliances regularly inspected by a qualified professional.

The most common cause of carbon monoxide leaks is a failed or leaking heat exchanger in your gas or oil furnace. The heat exchanger’s job is to vent the poisonous gases resulting from heat combustion away from your heating ducts and out of the building. If the heat exchanger develops corrosion, cracks or holes over time, you will never know it because the furnace still works. But carbon monoxide could be making its way through your building’s ventilation system. You’ll have no warning until your carbon monoxide detector goes off, and at that point you have a nightmare on your hands.

The other common cause of carbon monoxide leaks into the air is blocked vents or chimney flues. These are designed to move the deadly gases out of your building, but can get clogged by years-worth of dust and debris. Sometimes blockages can be caused by insect, bird or rodents nests. If this happens in your building, again you probably won’t know until the detector alerts you.

In addition to these furnace maintenance tips, you should have your heating equipment and vent systems thoroughly inspected and cleaned before you turn them on at the start of the heating season. A certified HVAC service professional will make sure your equipment is safe, clean and in good working order. And if it turns out that repairs are needed to make it safe, you can do them at your convenience instead of on an emergency basis. Either way, you’re saving yourself from a major headache and possibly a business disaster.

Carbon monoxide is only one of the dangers your business faces due to poor HVAC maintenance. If you’d like to learn more about the costs and risks associated with neglected heating and air conditioning equipment, take a look at our free guide to Calculating the Hidden Costs of Poor HVAC Maintenance.
Get the guide to understanding your HVAC System's hidden costs.