Your Guide to Carbon Monoxide Safety

Impossible to see, taste or smell, carbon monoxide can kill before you even know it's there.

Carbon monoxide safety begins with one simple truth: The signs of carbon monoxide poisoning often come too late.

Key facts

  • Because carbon monoxide is impossible to see, taste or smell, carbon monoxide can kill before you even know it's there.
  • Each year, about 480 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • 15,200 people are sent to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

Understanding how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning may go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

To know how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, let's look at where it can enter your home.

Carbon monoxide can originate from sources as diverse as:
  • Unvented kerosene or gas space heaters
  • Back-drafting or leaking chimneys and furnaces
  • Gas water heaters
  • Gas stoves, wood stoves and fireplaces
  • Generators and other gasoline-powered equipment
  • Automobile exhaust from attached garages

Purchase a carbon monoxide detector for each floor of your home as a preventive measure. Place them near sleeping areas on the lower half of the wall, and replace batteries annually. Like a smoke detector, test them on a monthly basis. If the alarm sounds, call your local fire department immediately.

How to prevent carbon monoxide

When it's time to fire up the furnace or throw a log on the fireplace, keep in mind that your risk of carbon monoxide exposure rises when temps drop. These tips can help you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Have your heating systems inspected annually by a trained service technician
  • Install additional ventilation in garages
  • Install exhaust fans to vent gas stoves outdoors
  • Keep fireplace flues open when in use
  • Never use gas appliances such as stoves or dryers for heating your home
  • Never idle an automobile inside a garage
  • Never use a generator inside your home or garage because deadly levels of carbon monoxide can build up quickly and remain for hours after the generator has been turned off

Performing routine maintenance on devices at risk for emitting carbon monoxide can help you reduce your risk of carbon monoxide exposure.

Watch for these signs of carbon monoxide poisoning

It's essential to know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, so if an issue does arise, you can identify it and seek treatment right away.

Health effects from carbon monoxide vary depending on exposure. The higher the concentration level and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk.

Low levels of carbon monoxide can cause:

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

Higher concentrations can result in:

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

Affected individuals may also have flu-like symptoms after leaving home. Extended exposure at high levels, however, can be fatal. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing flu-like symptoms and you believe it may be due to carbon monoxide exposure, seek medical care immediately.