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Protect Your Family from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Safety Tips

Read Less <<
  • Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
  • Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Use generators outside only, far away from the home.
  • Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking. Do not barbeque in the garage.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
  • Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home outside separate sleeping areas.
  • Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.

Know the Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.

Heat Exchangers

A cracked heat exchanger can release carbon dioxide, but how can you tell yours is cracked? Here are just a few examples along with an explanation of what causes cracks.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

What they can and cannot do

  • CAN - sense unacceptable levels of CO in the air
  • CAN - provide early warning, before a healthy adult might show symptoms
  • CAN - act as round-the-clock monitor of CO
  • CAN - only sense CO that reaches it - Where you hang a detector is important
  • CAN - breakdown like any other electronic device
  • CANNOT - work without electrical power (batteries, AC)
  • CANNOT - sense smoke, natural gas, propane, etc. (It is not a smoke detector!)

Where to put (or not put) your detector

  • PUT - near a bedroom, or other room where people spend most of their time; where its alarm can be heard.
  • READ the instructions that come with your Detector.
  • DO NOT PUT - in garage, furnace room, near cooking stove, etc.
  • DO NOT PUT - in dead air space, corner of room, near floor, in peak of vaulted ceiling.
  • DO NOT PUT - near open windows or doors.
  • DO NOT PUT - in excessively hot or cold areas, or excessively damp or dry areas.
  • DO NOT PUT - a cloth or plastic cover over the detector.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Used with permission from the author David G. Penney, PH.D

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