Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by the incomplete burning of any carbon-containing material, including gasoline, natural gas, propane, coal or wood. CO is dangerous because it replaces oxygen in the blood and interferes with the transport of needed oxygen to cells in the body.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
Many incidents involving carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented with the right preparation. Start with these seven tips to help keep your home and family safe from carbon monoxide.
1. Know the risks of CO poisoning.
Anything that burns a fuel—such as a furnace, fireplace, generator, gas appliance or vehicles—produces a toxic by-product: CO.
When equipment is properly maintained and vented, this colorless, odorless gas can be effectively dispersed and safely vented. If not, inhaling CO can result in serious health issues.
At lower concentrations, victims may experience symptoms such as headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. But at higher concentrations, CO poisoning can quickly cause loss of consciousness and even death.
2. Keep your vents clear.
During and after a storm, make sure nothing is obstructing the outside stack or vent for your gas dryer, stove, furnace and fireplace.
Take special care to prevent snow from building up and blocking these critical exits for CO.
3. Don’t run engines in a closed area.
Proper ventilation is critical to avoiding CO poisoning. So don’t start a car, fire up a grill or stove, or run a generator in a closed area like a basement or garage.
Even if you leave the garage door open, CO gas can quickly build up to toxic levels.
4. Schedule regular maintenance.
Make sure you rely on experts to install your fuel-burning appliances and set up the appropriate venting for each device.
At least once a year, have a qualified professional inspect your fuel-burning appliances to make sure they continue to operate properly.
5. Keep fireplaces clean and well vented.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove, make sure you keep it clean and ensure that the flue is working properly.
Even if the last embers are just smoldering, keep the flue open to let gases escape.
6. Install CO alarms.
If you have fuel-burning appliances, a fireplace or an attached garage, consider installing CO alarms in your home. Install alarms outside of each sleeping area, on every level of the home and in other locations required by any applicable laws/building codes.
Some CO detectors can even be interconnected across your house, so that when one detects an issue, they all sound the alarm. If you do hear the CO alarm, immediately move to fresh air and call 911.
7. Maintain your CO alarms.
Keep in mind that CO alarms do need to be maintained regularly.
Many come equipped with a battery backup to help ensure uninterrupted operation, even if the power goes out. But you will need to remember to change your batteries at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer, like you do with your smoke detectors.
It’s also a good idea to keep a supply of batteries on hand in the event of a multi-day power outage. Other maintenance tips to consider are removing visible dust with a vacuum and testing and replacing units (check your owner’s manual for details).