Carbon monoxide, or “CO,” is an odorless, colorless gas found in fumes from fuel in small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges or furnaces, as well as cars and trucks. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.
Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.
Here are ways to prevent CO poisoning in your home:
- Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change your clocks each spring and fall. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This detector can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your CO detector every five years.
- Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator, have an expert service it. An odor from your gas refrigerator can mean it could be leaking CO.
- When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes for appliances, such as a water heater, should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors. This prevents CO from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.
- Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home.
- Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up.
- Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
- Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
- Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors.
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
- When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.