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    Carbon Monoxide (CO) Risks in the HVAC Industry

    Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is an industry where there is ample opportunity for carbon monoxide (CO), a dangerous gas, to escape into the ambient air. For this reason, it’s critical that HVAC technicians, home inspectors, and other professionals that come into contact with HVAC equipment are aware of the potential for CO exposure — and poisoning.

    Awareness is paramount to eliminating safety hazards and preventing accidents. CO is odorless and tasteless, a feature that makes it particularly dangerous, as the symptoms can easily overcome someone before they have an indication that there is a problem. HVAC equipment such as gas furnaces and boilers have the potential to produce dangerous levels of CO if it is improperly installed, maintained, or inspected.


    Holding Inspector Industrial Pro in front of boiler

    Responsibilities and Challenges for the HVAC Technician

    According to Kiplinger, HVAC technicians sustain work-related injuries and illnesses at a rate 128.7 for every 10,000 workers — making this one of the top ten most dangerous jobs.

    While electrical shocks, burns from hot pipes, and cuts are among the risks, there is a fair amount of potential for exposure to deadly carbon monoxide (CO).

    Technicians, home inspectors, and other professionals that come into contact with HVAC equipment must stay aware of emission sources of CO, particularly since they are often called to an establishment to fix equipment that is already exhibiting signs of wear, stress, weakness, or disrepair.

    Sources of Carbon Monoxide in HVAC Equipment

    The Environmental Protection Agency points out there are many sources of carbon monoxide (CO) that can affect HVAC technicians and other individuals in the home or business. These include:

    • Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
    • Leaking chimneys and furnaces
    • Back-drafting from gas water heaters, furnaces, wood stoves, and fireplaces
    • Generators
    • Incomplete oxidation during combustion in unvented heaters
    • Damaged, worn, or poorly adjusted or maintained combustion devices

    Because HVAC technicians are typically called to a home when there is malfunctioning equipment, it is crucial to understand the signs of potential CO leaks that can lead to CO risks in the HVAC industry.

    Protecting HVAC Technicians from Carbon Monoxide Exposure

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has advised that heating systems and their components are thoroughly inspected and maintained according to guidelines to prevent potential carbon monoxide (CO) exposure.

    Signs of possible CO issues include:

    • Sooty streaks near fuel-burning appliances, or fallen soot in a fireplace
    • Lack of an upward draft in the chimney
    • Rusting on appliance jacks or flue pipe
    • Excess condensation on walls, windows, or cold services
    • Combustion appliances showing an orange or yellow flame
    • Chimney bricks that are damaged or discolored

    The DOE guidelines mention that most boiler-related deaths from all causes are attributed to poor maintenance or operator error, making proper maintenance procedures key in preventing fatalities.

    The Air Condition Contractors of America (ACCA) developed standards in concert with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to outline essential requirements for maintenance of HVAC equipment.

    The minimum recommendations include annual or semi-annual visits that include both inspection and applicable remediation, where necessary. At the minimum, these visits may require routine monitoring, periodic cleaning, adjustments, and eventual component replacement.

    These visits are conducted to prolong the efficiency of equipment, support lower energy cost, guard against failure, and ensure healthy, clean air.

    In addition, monitoring CO levels using a CO inspection and detection device is a sensible and noteworthy precaution.

    To learn more about the effects of CO poisoning, please review Understanding the Effects of Carbon Monoxide.

    Using Carbon Monoxide Meters to Detect and Monitor Carbon Monoxide Levels

    The Sensorcon Inspector is a trusted tool used by HVAC technicians and home inspectors for detecting and identifying the source of carbon monoxide leaks.

    Low-to-moderate carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the home can be indicative of a leak. After ruling out possible outside sources of carbon monoxide, for example, a vehicle idling nearby while windows to the home are open or a gas generator in use, the professional can use the Sensorcon Inspector to check specific components of the HVAC system to identify potential issues.

    The Sensorcon CO Inspector is a portable and reliable carbon monoxide meter (CO meter) that was designed in the USA and assembled in our manufacturing facility located in Buffalo, NY.

    The CO meter provides you with real-time readings all the way from 0 to 2000 PPM and is used by professionals to monitor or inspect for carbon monoxide.

    Trusted by HVAC technicians, aviation professionals, police, fire fighters, emergency medical services (EMS), home inspectors, plumbers, and HVAC technicians, the Sensorcon CO Inspector is a great tool for monitoring for and diagnosing CO leaks in the home or workplace.

    Please visit our product pages to learn more about our various product offerings.