Carbon monoxide, or CO, is often referred to as the silent killer, it is a colour-less, odorless and tasteless flammable gas that can cause many negative health issues. Carbon monoxide is created when the fuel used by many different appliances is not fully burned. This can include wood, natural gas, propane, heating oil, charcoal and/or gasoline. When too much of this gas is created it begins to replace the oxygen that is naturally found in your blood which with prolonged exposure can cause death. Carbon monoxide safety is very important and knowing what the early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning is essential to identifying the problem in your home before it becomes a much larger issue.
What are the Symptoms?
Carbon Monoxide poisoning shows similar symptoms to having the flu or other common illnesses. If you have any of the symptoms highlighted in the graphic below and you think they could be caused by carbon monoxide, leave the area immediately and call 911. Prolonged exposure to the fumes, can cause symptoms to worsen and eventually lead to unconsciousness or death.
What are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide?
There can be many different sources of carbon monoxide throughout your home or business. If not properly installed or maintained furnaces, wood stoves, water heaters and generators can all release carbon monoxide.
As a homeowner you should regularly be inspecting your appliances for:
- Blocked vents
- Breaks or tears in the lines or connections
- Disconnected or corroded pipes
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
There are many different steps that you can take to help reduce your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in and around your home.
- Never leave your car running in the garage
- Never us a BBQ or portable burner in an enclosed area (ie; Home, Garage, RV etc.)
- Have any wood burning appliances and venting inspected & cleaned yearly
- Never use a stove or oven to heat your home
- Check the flame on fuel burning appliances – it should be clear blue not orange
- Never use or keeping running gas powered equipment in the garage
- If you have a chimney it should be inspected by a WETT Certified Professional
Throughout the winter months, especially across Canada, homes are heated with many different appliances that can be sources for carbon monoxide. It is especially important during this time to make sure all external vents are completely clear to prevent a deadly build up of carbon monoxide gas. After a major snow fall you should be clearing the snow away from your external vents including your: dryer, furnace, fireplace & wood-burning or gas stove.
All of the above are proactive steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of carbon monoxide in your home. Your second line of defense should be having carbon monoxide alarms installed on every level of your home. These detectors should be installed on each floor and adjacent to any and all sleeping areas in your house. These are important for early detection of carbon monoxide levels in your home, but should not replace proper usage, maintenance and inspection of appliances and machinery.
Did you know in Ontario it is mandatory to have carbon monoxide alarms in all residential homes?
Carbon Monoxide Alarm Tips
Always remember that your CO alarms need to be tested the same as your fire alarms do. Test them once a month by pressing the alarm button to see if the alarm is working correctly. If your alarm uses batteries, and is not hard-wired, be sure to change the batteries at least once a year.
When purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm for your home make sure to look for one with the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) or Underwriters Laboratories Incorporated (cUL) symbols (seen right). These symbols mean that the alarm you are purchasing has been properly made and tested.
Keep in mind that many carbon monoxide alarms will sound or beep differently depending on if there is an immediate danger or the batteries need to be replaced. Make sure everyone in your household knows the difference in order to react swiftly and appropriately to each.
What To Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off?
If you wake up or come home to an alarm going off, you should immediately leave the area and contact your local fire department or emergency services. If for some reason you are unable to leave your home, immediately open all of the windows and doors. If your alarm sounds do not try to locate the source of carbon monoxide. Never ignore the alarm or take the batteries out of it!