Stay Safe from CO in Your Home

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a highly dangerous gas that is odourless, tasteless and invisible. Exposure to high levels can result in brain damage and death within minutes. Understanding this danger and how you can prevent it in your home is essential for keeping your family safe year-round.

How is Carbon Monoxide Produced?
Carbon-based fuel produces carbon dioxide when it's fully burned. However, if there's not enough oxygen to complete the burning process, the resulting emission is carbon monoxide.

How Does it Affect the Body?
Your blood contains hemoglobin that transports oxygen to your tissues and vital organs. When you inhale carbon monoxide, it attaches itself to the hemoglobin and prevents the transport of oxygen, resulting in tissue damage and eventually death. The effects depend largely on the age and general health of a person, as well as the levels of the CO in the air. At 200 parts per million, or ppm, carbon monoxide will cause a headache and nausea over the course of several hours. The unborn, young children and the elderly may have more severe symptoms than those in other age brackets who are in good health. However, at higher concentrations, such as 800 ppm, not even the healthiest individuals will survive for more than an hour. Levels as high as 12,000 ppm will kill within two minutes.

Where Do CO Leaks Originate?
Any combustion appliance in your home, including your gas furnace, stove, water heater, generator or space heater, is a potential carbon monoxide source. Automobile exhaust also contains high levels of carbon monoxide, and cars should never be left to idle in an enclosed space such as a garage.

How to Prevent Leaks
Your best defense against CO leaks in the home is to properly maintain your fuel-powered appliances and equipment. A yearly furnace and water heater tune-up provides essential prevention  in your home. The ventilation of these systems should be thoroughly inspected to detect obstructions and other damage that can cause it to leak into the home. Also:

  • Have your chimney inspected every fall before using your fireplace during the heating season. Obstructions and improperly working components can increase the risk of CO leaks.
  • Install an exhaust vent over your gas stove and turn it on whenever you cook.
  • Always use the manufacturer-specified fuel when operating any combustion equipment, including kerosene heaters.
  • Make sure the door on your wood-burning stove closes securely. Have your wood-burning stove cleaned and serviced every year.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you use any combustion appliances in your home, you should have detectors installed on every floor, including one nearby your main sleeping area. Designed to alert you at the first indication of a leak, your detectors can provide you with time to get out of the house before inhaling enough that you suffer adverse effects, including death.

If you don't have the means to install good-quality detectors in your home, you may be eligible for a free one through your local fire service or Gas Safe Register office.

Look for these features when choosing a carbon monoxide detector:
* Digital readout. Choose a detector that gives you a reading of the level of CO detected in the air. This can help determine the source of the leak, as well as help medical professionals choose the best course of action if poisoning has occurred.

  • Audible alarm. Some CO detectors simply flash a light or have a sensor that changes color when carbon monoxide is detected. These aren't recommended for obvious reasons. Choose a detector that features a shrill audio alarm that can wake you out of a deep sleep or alert you to CO no matter where you are in the home.
  • Battery backup power. If you choose a CO detector that is hardwired into your home's electrical supply or that plugs into an outlet, make sure it also has a battery for backup in case your home loses power. The risk of poisoning may increase during a power outage due to the utilisation of gas-powered generators and the use of fireplaces or wood stoves for heat.

Whether you're using a free detector or have purchased a top-of-the-line model for your home, it is essential to change the batteries in your CO detector every year and push the test button every week to ensure it's still operating properly.

First Alert for Carbon Monoxide