Carbon Monoxide Safety


Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood and to the rest of the body. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels. About 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment. Even more, die from CO poisoning produced by idling cars and motorized equipment.

Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels such as:

  • Charcoal
  • Coal
  • Natural Gas and fuel oils
  • Wood

Carbon monoxide can be emitted by combustion sources that are not properly vented, such as: kerosene and gas space heaters, furnaces, wood stoves, gas stoves, fireplaces, water heaters, automobile exhaust from a garage, or storage area. Problems can arise as a result of improper installation, maintenance, or inadequate ventilation.

Depending on the amount of Carbon monoxide inhaled, the gas can impede coordination, and produce fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and dizziness. Infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or other ailments can be especially susceptible. You can't see or smell carbon monoxide, but in high levels, it can kill a person in minutes. The symptoms are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning. Don't ignore symptoms, especially if more than one person is feeling them. 

If you think you are suffering from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning you should:

  • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows. Turn off combustion appliances and leave the house. Go outside.
  • Go to an emergency room. Be sure to tell the physician that you suspect CO poisoning.
  • Be prepared to answer the following questions: Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms? Did everyone's symptoms appear at about the same time? Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home? Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain they are working properly?

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Ensure that appliances are properly adjusted and working to manufacturers' instructions and local building codes.
  • Annual inspections for heating system, chimneys, and flues: Have them cleaned by a qualified technician.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Use only approved fuel as specified by the manufacturer for space heaters.
  • Do not use ovens and gas ranges for heating rooms.
  • Do not burn charcoal inside a residence, cabin, recreational vehicle, or camper.
  • Make sure stoves and heaters are vented to the outside and that exhaust systems do not leak.
  • Do not use gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces without proper ventilation.
  • Never leave a car or lawn mower engine running in any enclosed space, garage, or shed.
  • Insure adequate intake of outside air for appliances

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Choose a carbon monoxide detector carefully. Make sure it meets the UL standards, has a long warranty, and has a self-test and reset button. Carbon Monoxide detectors are not as accurate as smoke detectors. They can go off when the batter gets low as well.

If the CO detector alarm goes off:

  • Make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
  • Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of poisoning.
  • If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. Tell the doctor you suspect CO poisoning.
  • If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air, turn off all potential sources of CO- your oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater, and any vehicle or small engine.
  • Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house.