Carbon Monoxide

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Often called an invisible killer, CO is a gas you cannot see, taste, or smell. It can be created when fuels, such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, and oil, burn incompletely. CO gas can be deadly. CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches.

Increased Risk During the Winter

The winter months are here. As the mercury begins to dip, damaged or poorly maintained heating equipment may be used, cars may be warming up in the garage, there may be a lack of ventilation in the home with windows closed for the winter or generators used when electricity is out due to a winter storm. People don’t realize how dangerous these practices can be. Any fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, space or portable heaters), portable generators, and chimneys can produce carbon monoxide. Using a gas stove for heat can cause carbon monoxide (CO) fumes to fill the home. And a vehicle running inside a garage is a danger zone for poisonous carbon monoxide that can also fill the home. 

How can you protect yourself from carbon monoxide?

Install CO alarms inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating CO. Have your heating equipment inspected by a qualified professional every year before cold weather sets in. Always remove a vehicle from the garage when it is running. Never use a range or oven to heat the home. Portable generators should be operated in well-ventilated locations, outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings. Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris. Only use barbecue grills outside, away from all doors, windows, and vents. Never use grills inside the home or the garage, even if the doors are open.

Every home should have a working CO detector: It may save your life.  Carbon monoxide alarms are designed to activate before potentially life-threatening levels of CO are reached. 

CO detectors should be easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning

For maximum effectiveness while you sleep, CO detectors should be placed as close to sleeping areas as possible.  At least one CO detector on each level of the house is a great idea.

Quick Tips

  • Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Install CO alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Never use an oven to heat your home.
  • CO alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and CO alarms.
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month.
  • If your CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location (outdoors or by an open window or door) and call 9-1-1. Remain at the fresh air location until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries or other trouble indicators.
  • Make sure appliances are installed and working according to manufacturers’ instructions and local building codes.
  • Never use unvented appliances — make sure all appliances are fully vented to the outdoors.
  • Have the heating system, chimney and flue inspected and cleaned by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
  • Do not burn charcoal, kerosene lanterns or portable camp stoves inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle or camper.
  • Do not operate gasoline-powered engines inside buildings.
  • Never leave your car or mower running in a closed garage.
  • Make sure your furnace has an adequate intake of outside air.
  • Install a CO detector with an audible alarm in your home and garage.

What should I do if the carbon monoxide detector goes off?

  • Verify that it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
  • Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning.
  • If they are symptoms, get everyone out of the house immediately, call 911 and report that your carbon monoxide detector is sounding and people feel ill.