Can a Water Heater Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
(updated 2018)

The invisible killer is in your house! Can you imagine more horrible words that warn about the danger coming from the water heater? We are talking about carbon monoxide – a gas that occurs during the water heating process in some types of boilers.

What styles of hot water heaters are potentially dangerous, how to recognize the hazard, stop the leak and protect yourselves from poisoning?

Carbon monoxide, the product of incomplete combustion

Let's see first what the carbon monoxide is.

Then we will see how to check water heater for carbon monoxide.

Living organisms consist of a large extent of carbon or hydrocarbon compounds and that's the reason why the fossil fuels, like coal, oil, natural gas and the natural raw material wood contain these components, too. Burning process will split the hydrocarbon stored over millions of years again. The oxygen is essential for burning. If there is enough air, the combustion is optimal and carbon dioxide (CO2) is released. Incorrect combustion as it can be seen in gas water heaters, caused by a defect or insufficient oxygen, however, produces carbon monoxide (CO) as a burning product.

Taking into account the above we can conclude that every combustion (read: fuel-burning appliance) inside the home or office may present a risk. The sources of danger are diverse and gas water heaters, oil and gas boilers are among them.

Can the electric water heater leak carbon monoxide? The answer is no.

Why is CO dangerous for your health

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas. The terrifying thing is the fact that its aggressive and invisible attack on the human body can cause serious consequences, including the death. In the bloodstream, carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin into the place that is actually reserved for oxygen. In this way, less oxygen gets into the cells (hypoxia). At the same time, the body's own carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a byproduct of energy production, can no longer be transported to the lungs via the blood and exhaled from the body. The result of these two processes is suffocation.

The first signs of CO poisoning are a headache, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating, fatigue, nausea, vomiting... If there is no improvement, unconsciousness follows. The man stops breathing and the death occurs.

Even small amounts of carbon monoxide in the blood can contaminate the body if the source is not found and eliminated in time. A concentration of CO in the blood leads to a lack of oxygen and can thus cause damage to all body cells, brain, nerves and other organs.

Some categories of people are more vulnerable than others. These are, as you could assume, small children, elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, breathing problems...

Prevention and how to detect carbon monoxide leaking in time

CO DetectorCO Detector

To determine the current concentration of the carbon monoxide in the air, it is recommended to buy CO detectors and install where it is needed (bedroom and living room – for example). There are different devices on the market.

Also, consult a professional plumber.

Unclean combustion caused by defects or insufficient oxygen for the combustion process results in water heater emitting the carbon monoxide. At the same time, a negative pressure in the installation room can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, too. With a simultaneous operation of at least one exhaust system and a fireplace, the exhaust gases instead of flowing out of the chimney may be pushed into the room.

So, ask a plumber to inspect the water heater and/or the whole system and to propose measures. Clogged exhaust ducts, clogged chimney, exhaust air system which draws not only used air but also oxygen from the room, defective exhaust pipes... can lead to bad combustion.

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How to choose a carbon monoxide detector

The simplest carbon monoxide detector costs 20-25 dollars and it is designed to be plugged into the electrical outlet. Slightly more expensive model is equipped with a battery-powered backup option.

The next types are the units that combine smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector. They are always hard-wired and positioned on the ceiling, because of the smoke detector that required high mounting.

Digital carbon monoxide detectors look nice; they usually have a display that shows CO level continuously. The freestanding device may be put on the bookshelf, for example. The price is affordable – 40-55 dollars.

How many CO detectors do you actually need? Experts recommend one on every floor or one within 10 feet of each bedroom door.

Be aware that detector has a limited shelf life. The advice is to be replaced every five years. Check the manufacturing date when you buy one – it can be expired.

To conclude: Households with stoves, gas water heaters, gas heaters and similar sources of combustion are required to take precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning. The best and the least expensive protective measures include carbon monoxide detectors, area ventilation, regular water heater maintenance, and detailed information about all circumstances and behaviors if an elevated level of CO occurs.

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