The recent onset of snow, ice, and colder temperatures encourages you to run your heating system to keep your home warm. Furnaces and other combustion heaters pose the threat of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, so brush up on the top tips to keep your family safe, just in time for Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Dubbed the “silent killer,” CO is a colorless, odorless gas that is generated as a byproduct of combustion heating. When vented properly, heating and cooking equipment exhaust carbon monoxide to the exterior, where it harmlessly dissipates into the air. But when CO accumulates in a confined indoor space, it can be deadly.

At least 430 people die each year in the US as a result of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Another 50,000 people are admitted to the hospital for treatment of CO poisoning-related symptoms, including headaches, chest pain, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, and unconsciousness. Long-term, low-level exposure to carbon monoxide can cause lasting symptoms such as numbness, vision problems, impaired memory, sleep disturbances, and heart problems.

How to Prevent CO Poisoning

Carbon monoxide can kill or cause lasting harm without warning because it’s undetectable unless you have a CO alarm. Reduce your risk of exposure to this deadly gas by following these tips:

  • Install CO alarms. If your home doesn’t already have this safety feature, purchase and install carbon monoxide alarms on every floor for maximum protection. Test the alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
  • Have fuel-burning appliances professionally installed. First, select models that have been tested and certified by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Then, because proper ventilation is critical to prevent CO poisoning, leave the installation to a qualified technician.
  • Inspect fuel-burning appliances annually. Every fall, arrange for a professional to visit your home and test your fuel-burning furnace, stove, clothes dryer, water heater, and other appliances for carbon monoxide leaks. Then, schedule an inspection any time you notice a yellow, flickering burner flame in gas-fired appliances (as opposed to a steady blue flame).
  • Run the kitchen exhaust fan when cooking on a gas stove. This is a common source of CO poisoning, so reduce your exposure by running the exhaust fan or cracking a kitchen window. Also, never leave the stove or oven on for the express purpose of heating your home.
  • Don’t operate combustion grills or generators indoors. Never use charcoal grills, camping stoves, or portable generators in confined spaces, including the garage. Keep these appliances at least 20 feet from open windows and doors.
  • Don’t let the car idle in an attached garage. Even with the garage door open, CO emissions from a vehicle exhaust pipe can leak into your home. For this reason, you should also never operate gas-powered tools in the garage.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely preventable—as long as you’re careful. For more safety tips, or to request help with recovering from a disaster, please contact DKI Services.