3 Fast Facts About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) gas, known as the “invisible killer,” is colorless, odorless, tasteless — and deadly. It enters the body through breathing.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire CO incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of nine such calls per hour.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide or CO poisoning, with the concentration measured in parts per million (ppm), can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • drowsiness
  • headaches

If your family experiences some or all of these symptoms but you start to feel better after leaving your house, it may be due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

  • Furnace or boiler
  • Gas or fuel oil water heater
  • Gas or wood fireplace
  • Gas kitchen range
  • Plugged, rusted, disconnected, or defective chimneys or vents
  • Backdrafting of combustion gases into the home
  • Automobiles in attached garages

Indications of a Carbon Monoxide Problem

  • Rusting or streaking on chimney or vent
  • Loose or missing furnace panel
  • Soot on venting or appliances
  • Loose or disconnected venting
  • Debris or soot falling from chimney
  • Moisture on interior side of windows

Suspect CO Poisoning?

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning or the CO alarm goes off, follow these procedures from the NFPA:

  1. Immediately move outdoors to fresh air and do a head count.
  2. Open a window if you can’t get outdoors.
  3. If there are pets in the home, remove them without endangering yourself or other family members.
  4. Call 9-1-1 from your cell phone or a neighbor’s phone. Tell them about the symptoms each family member is experiencing and when they started.
  5. Stay near your house and wait for the authorities to arrive.
  6. Do not re-enter the home until emergency service responders have arrived, aired out the house, and determined it is safe to re-enter.
  7. Correct the problem before starting the heating appliances.
  8. If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds again, repeat the above steps. Do not ignore alarms.

Safety Tips to Prevent CO Poisoning

Here are more tips from NFPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to prevent CO poisoning.

  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it.
  • Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor inside the garage, even if garage doors are open.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.
  • Make sure heating appliances are installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If you do not know how to check your appliances, have a professional do it.
  • Make sure chimneys and vents draw all gases out of the home. If you do not know how to do this, have a professional check your home.
  • Have the heating system, chimney and vents inspected and serviced annually by a qualified heating contractor.
  • Never heat your home with a gas kitchen range. Use the range only for cooking.
  • Always use a kitchen range hood, vented to the outdoors, when cooking on a gas range.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Where to Install Them

WHN TIP – Keep It Clear! Don’t block the CO detector with furniture or other hazards.

Install a UL-certified (Underwriters Laboratories) carbon monoxide alarm:

  • in a central location on every level of the home
  • outside each sleeping area
  • in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards
  • NOT in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances

For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

WHN TIP – Installation: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height. Remember: CO does not rise like smoke does.

How to Test/Maintain Them

  • Test according to manufacturer’s directions. Using a test button tests only tells you if the circuitry is operating correctly, not how accurate the sensor is.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
  • Remember to change your carbon monoxide detector’s batteries at least twice a year.
  • Alarms have a recommended replacement age, which can be obtained from the product literature or from the manufacturer.
  • Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.

For More Information

Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) — an independent, not-for-profit product-safety testing and certification organization and has tested products for public safety for more than a century.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) — a global nonprofit organization, established in 1896, devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) — protects the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction.