Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Learn about carbon monoxide and its potentially fatal effects. Also learn about alarms (detectors) and how to ensure safe home and air quality through appliance maintenance and inspections.

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About carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (also known as CO) is a gas that causes illness and can lead to death. It has no:

  • smell
  • taste
  • colour

The gas is made whenever you burn fuel like:

  • oil
  • coal
  • wood
  • gasoline
  • propane
  • natural gas

It's also contained in second-hand smoke.

Carbon monoxide can be present in your home or cottage at any time of the year. However, the risk is greater in winter months because homes in Canada are usually heated by:

  • furnaces
  • wood stoves
  • water heaters or boilers
  • other appliances that run on fuels

These devices can release carbon monoxide into your home if they are not installed correctly, or if they malfunction.

Other sources of carbon monoxide include:

  • generators
  • charcoal grills
  • vehicle exhaust
  • cooking appliances
  • blocked chimney flues

These devices become a risk when they are used in unventilated areas, such as a:

  • home
  • garage
  • cottage
  • camper
  • tent

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide can cause health problems before you even notice that it's present. Breathing it in reduces your body's ability to carry oxygen in your blood. Exposure to the gas can cause carbon monoxide poisoning (CO poisoning) and can be dangerous to your health.

At low levels, effects include flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • impaired motor functions, such as:
    • muscle weakness
    • partial or total loss of function of a body part (limb or limbs)

At high levels, or if you are exposed to low levels for long periods of time, you can experience:

  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • poor vision
  • difficulty thinking

At very high levels, it can cause:

  • convulsions
  • coma
  • death

Carbon monoxide alarms (detectors)

Carbon monoxide (CO) can only be detected with an alarm (detector). You should have at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home, in addition to a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms alert you to fires, not carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide detectors can be purchased at any hardware or home equipment store.

Install a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certified carbon monoxide detector. The CSA certified product will have the CSA mark on the product. This will have an alarm you can hear to warn you of high carbon monoxide levels in your home.

Make sure to follow the manufacturer's suggestions for:

  • installation
  • testing
  • use
  • replacement

The most important place to install a detector is in hallways, outside of sleeping areas.

Test your detectors regularly. Replace batteries and the detector itself as recommended by the manufacturer. Write on the battery or device to remind yourself when it was installed and when it should be replaced.

Contact your municipal or provincial government office for more information on the use and installation of carbon monoxide detectors in your area. Your local fire department may also be able to assist you.

If your carbon monoxide detector sounds

If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, you should do the following.

  1. Do not try to locate the source of carbon monoxide.
  2. Leave your home immediately and move to fresh air.
  3. Once outside, call 9-1-1, your fire department or emergency services.
  4. Return to your home only after the problem has been fixed by a professional.

Appliance maintenance and inspections

You can help prevent carbon monoxide with good maintenance of fuel-burning appliances.

Make sure appliances are well maintained and inspected by a professional at least once a year. This includes:

  • furnaces
  • fireplaces
  • gas stoves
  • water heaters

Home owners should regularly examine propane and natural gas powered appliances, such as:

  • stoves
  • heaters
  • refrigerators

They should be checking for:

  • leaks
  • cracks
  • blocked vents
  • improper installations
  • poor connections of gas lines to:
    • appliances
    • vents
  • breaks or tears in connection tubes
  • corroded or disconnected venting pipes

Inspect exhaust vents during and after a snowstorm to make sure they are not covered with snow. Do this for your:

  • dryer
  • furnace
  • fireplace and chimney
  • heat recovery ventilator
  • wood-burning or gas stove

Indoor air quality

Keep your home and cottage air clean and free of carbon monoxide by:

  • preventing indoor smoking
  • keeping the door between your house and the garage closed
  • not idling vehicles in the garage, even when the garage door is open

Never use:

  • gas-powered machines in the garage, such as:
    • trimmers
    • generators
    • lawnmowers
    • snowblowers
  • a barbecue or portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a:
    • home
    • garage
    • vehicle
    • camper
    • tent
  • kerosene or oil space heaters and lamps in enclosed areas unless they're specifically designed for indoor use
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