Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that oxygen from flowing freely through the bloodstream. It occurs when fuel such as gas, coal, and wood burn incompletely. In-home appliances such as fireplaces, space heaters, and gas stoves can produce CO due to improper use or lack of maintenance. Symptoms of CO exposure include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, disorientation, and muscle weakness. Because the human senses cannot detect CO, it’s important to take precautions to protect your home and family from this silent killer.
1. Install carbon monoxide alarms.
Install CO alarms outside bedrooms, with at least one alarm on every level of your home. Look for alarms that integrate with one another; if one goes off, the others go off to alert you of the threat. Ensure that your alarms bear the seal of an official CO testing laboratory. This ensures that the alarms can detect CO quickly and accurately. Test each alarm on a monthly basis and replace batteries if needed. If a CO alarm goes off, move all family members outside or by an open door or window. After everyone is safely evacuated and accounted for, call your local fire department and remain outside until help arrives.
2. Operate vehicles carefully.
Unattended vehicles left running in a closed garage are one of the leading causes of carbon monoxide buildup in homes. If you must idle a vehicle to warm it up, do so outside your garage. Check that the exhaust pipes are free of snow, debris, and other obstructions. Never leave a fuel engine running indoors, even if doors and windows are open. Shut off your vehicle immediately upon parking in your garage.
3. Use appliances properly.
Never operate gas grills or portable generators indoors, even with adequate ventilation. These appliances can produce CO faster than vents can remove it. Place generators outside, far away from your home. Never use a stove or oven to heat your home. If you use a space heater, turn it off before going to sleep or leaving for work. Clean and inspect your fireplace before use. Leave the damper open until the ashes have cooled. This will also help flush out CO. Make sure your kids understand never to throw items into the fireplace. Clean dust and debris from stove and dryer vents regularly, and check for snow accumulation after storms. Have a licensed technician inspect and maintain your vents and heating system at least once a year.
4. Avoid smoking in closed spaces.
Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, one of them being CO. If you must smoke, make sure to open a window or do it outdoors. Put out all cigars and cigarettes thoroughly. Never toss a used cigarette into a waste basket.
5. Store gasoline safely.
Store gasoline tanks and containers away from heat sources and electrical appliances. Never leave gasoline tanks in the trunk of your vehicle, as enclosed spaces can quickly overheat on hot days. Detached garages and sheds are safe options. Keep matches and lighters away from gasoline, and make sure that all gasoline containers are equipped with child safety seals. Warn your kids about the dangers of gasoline.
If you or a family member experience symptoms of CO poisoning, turn off all gas-based appliances, get fresh air, and seek immediate medical help.