Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat to your family's health. You desperately want to eliminate any chance of being harmed by this hazardous gas. You know that your gas furnace poses the risk of CO, but do air conditioners produce carbon monoxide?
Common residential air conditioners do not produce carbon monoxide. Combustion is not part of the cooling process so it cannot produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct. In fact, air conditioning season tends to reduces the chance of CO poisoning because most fuel-burning appliances are off.
That being said, there was a time when some air conditioners used natural gas to produce cooling. But that was a long time ago and it would be shocking to see a system like that still in use. There are also some very, very rare cases of units in industrial settings that could produce CO. We'll touch briefly on this type of air conditioning equipment later in this article.
But there is one danger that is common in the cooling season. People can still be poisoned by CO by running a generator improperly during power outages. And this is often to power their AC. We should always be on guard against CO poisoning.
Spring is finally approaching and it is time for your furnace to get its well-deserved rest after keeping you warm indoors all through the winter months. As your heating system temporarily retires, you are now about to liberate your trusty AC.
It is your AC's turn now to impact the quality of the air you breathe inside your home. Because of the CO concerns you had with your furnace, you now wonder whether your AC could also be emitting CO or causing poor air quality. Should you really be worried about your indoor air quality?
Why Can’t Air Conditioners Produce Carbon Monoxide?
To answer this question, we have to make it clear first how carbon monoxide is produced. Next, we will explain how air conditioners function and see if there is a connection between the two processes.
Carbon monoxide (chemical formula: CO) is the resulting gas from burning fuel, along with nitrogen dioxide, particles, and sulfur dioxide. Fuel-powered appliances such as a furnace, wood stoves, gas stoves, ovens, grills, clothes dryers, water heater, power tools, lawn equipment, and motor vehicles are great producers of CO.
Heating devices such as fireplaces, furnaces, boilers, and generators provide us warmth through a continuous combustion process, which inevitably leads to CO production. This is why levels of CO indoors can significantly increase during cold seasons.
Now that we narrowed down the causes of carbon monoxide emission, let's look at how air conditioners make your home cooler.
Instead of relying on gas or fossil fuels, most air conditioners are powered by electricity. The cooling process begins when your AC draws in the warm and humid air from your living spaces through the vents. Once the warm air gets inside the AC, the heat is absorbed by the evaporator coil that contains the cooling agent called refrigerant. When the heat is removed from the air, the cooled air is distributed throughout your home through the air ducts.
As you can see, nowhere in this process does the air conditioning unit require the burning of fuel or any fossil fuel for that matter. So your home AC is physically not capable of producing CO and poisoning your family with the chilled air it releases.
The truth of the matter is, when the heating season is over, most gas-burning appliances such as furnaces, boilers, and fireplaces are made inactive or put away because there is less need for them.
Does that mean you are really out of the woods from being exposed to CO poisoning during the AC season? Not quite yet.
An Air Conditioner With A Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Warning
Many years ago there were air conditioning units that could produce CO. Natural gas air conditioners produce carbon monoxide and was an available home cooling source during the 1960s. These units fell out of favor due to the dangers, costs and environmental factors.
Recently though there has been some experimentation to bring back natural gas air conditioners.
Home air conditioning systems for the foreseeable future will remain electric and safe from a technology that produces carbon monoxide. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be on guard if the "latest and greatest" is being offered.
Detecting Carbon Monoxide Leaks
What makes carbon monoxide really sneaky and dangerous is the fact that you cannot see, smell, or taste its presence. Without the help of a carbon monoxide detector, it is virtually impossible to detect a carbon monoxide leak.
If it's already too late, members of your family may experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headache, dizziness, nausea, flu-like feeling, tiredness, confusion, stomach pain, and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure to CO may even lead to comatose or death.
This poisonous air can roaming silently inside your house so it goes without saying then that it is extremely critical to detect it.
Sure, your heating system is turned off but there are other sources of CO that could still be active even in the spring and summer seasons.
Some families enjoy camping and barbecue parties in the summer right at their own backyards. These recreational activities usually involve the use of grills, oil lamps, portable heaters and gas stoves which produce a significant amount of CO.
During power outages, some households also use a generator to keep their AC running. If these generators are not maintained or misused, they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Conclusion and HVAC Safety Tips
An air conditioner cannot produce carbon monoxide on its own. But you should never let your guard down against carbon monoxide poisoning, heating or cooling season. True, your air conditioner will not give off CO but an ill-maintained and improperly used generator and other fuel-burning appliances can cause poor indoor air quality and still endanger your family's health.
Stay up to date with HVAC safety tips and if you're concerned about CO, have an air conditioning repair tech test for carbon monoxide leaks. A quality HVAC company will always be ready to perform carbon monoxide testing no matter the season.
Make sure the carbon monoxide detectors in your home are working. And for the love of Pete, do not run a generator indoors like in your garage or basement.