Carbon Monoxide Safety

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless, non-corrosive gas made up of one part carbon and one part oxygen. It can be a by-product of the combustion of ordinary fuels. CO is relatively harmless in open spaces, but very poisonous if allowed to accumulate. A malfunctioning appliance can create a hazard.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Whenever combustion takes place without sufficient oxygen, carbon monoxide is produced. Since less fresh air is entering homes today due to conservation measures, it's doubly important to be alert to the dangers of improper venting.

Carbon monoxide isn't in natural gas. It can be produced if natural gas doesn't burn and vent properly. Carbon monoxide is also produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. This can happen if your gas appliance or fuel-burning device isn't properly maintained or adjusted. Other CO sources include vehicle exhaust, blocked chimney flues, fuel-burning cooking appliances used improperly for heating purposes, and charcoal grills used in the home, tent, camper, garage or other unventilated area.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide may cause any or all of the following symptoms -- headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, irregular breathing, rapid heartbeat, ringing in the ears, seeing spots, fatigue, confusion, memory loss, loss of coordination, blurred vision, feeling ill or tired at home but fine when away from home, loss of consciousness, coma and eventually seizures, cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.

Other household symptoms include stuffy, foul-smelling or stale air, the smell of exhaust fumes, a yellow/orange flame on gas ranges, furnace or water heater burners, soot around outside of chimney, furnace or water heater flue vent or fireplace and large areas of condensation of water vapor on walls or windows.

What to do if you Detect Carbon Monoxide

Your gas furnace and water heating equipment should be serviced regularly to ensure they are working properly, efficiently and safely. This includes proper venting of exhaust gases. In a tightly sealed home, you may need to install fresh air inlets and exhaust fans to supply the circulation needed for combustion. Carbon monoxide detectors, available at numerous hardware, home and variety stores, are just as important as smoke detectors. But they are not foolproof, so the choice is up to you. Know how to prevent carbon monoxide.

Follow these simple guidelines if you think you have a carbon monoxide problem in your home:

  • If your detector alarm sounds and you are experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home and immediately call your local emergency services number or 911.
  • If you have no symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and your detector alarm sounds first check the detector. Push the reset button (if available), turn off any appliances or other sources of combustion. Get fresh air to the building and check for sources of carbon monoxide. Adjust, repair or replace your appliances as needed by calling a qualified service or repair company.
  • If you think you have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and you do not have a detector, leave your home and immediately call your local emergency services number or 911.

Preventive Measures

  • Purchase carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Be sure all fuel-burning equipment is installed, adjusted and operating properly.
  • Have appliances installed by a professional, and carefully follow manufacturer instructions.
  • Do not cut off or restrict combustion air sources to appliances.
  • Equipment should be inspected regularly by a professional heating or appliance contractor.
  • Provide adequate ventilation in the house when using stoves, fireplaces or unvented space heaters.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors or in an enclosed space.
  • Clean chimney and check for blockage, especially with wood burning fireplaces and stoves.
  • Open garage door before starting vehicle.