Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is odourless, colourless, tasteless, non-irritating, poisonous — and deadly.

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CO is produced when burning common fuels such as natural gas, propane and kerosene. Excessive amounts of CO will form when there isn’t proper ventilation or an adequate air supply.

When CO is inhaled, red blood cells don't get the oxygen they need. Continued exposure to high levels of CO leads to unconsciousness, convulsions, brain damage and ultimately, death.

  • Sources
  • Signs
  • Symptoms

Source

Common carbon monoxide sources in your home:

  • Corroded, disconnected or plugged chimneys on fuel-burning appliances
  • Barbecuing indoors
  • An idling vehicle in an attached garage
  • Attached garage passageway door to your home is left ajar
  • Heated garages or shops with unvented or improperly vented equipment
  • Defective furnace heat exchanger
  • Depressurization (i.e. a change in your home’s air pressure when inside air is exhausted faster than outside fresh air can come in)

Signs

Signs that there may be carbon monoxide in your home:

  • Stuffy air
  • Sudden formation of excessive moisture on windows and walls
  • Soot build-up around appliances and vents
  • A yellow flame in a natural gas appliance instead of blue
  • Fumes that may smell similar to vehicle exhaust (CO is odourless, but may be accompanied by other exhaust-like fumes)
  • Properly functioning detector indicates there is CO in the air

Symptoms

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Dizziness
  • Burning eyes
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion

How to Help Keep Your Home and Family Safe From CO

Don’t put your family’s safety at risk — a carbon monoxide detector in your home alerts you to danger before physical symptoms of CO poisoning appear. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement, maintenance and replacement of your detector.

Carbon monoxide detectors are just part of the solution. Practice the following tips to help keep your family safe:

  • Learn more CO safety tips

    • Ensure gas equipment, chimneys and gas appliances (including gas ranges) are properly installed, maintained and inspected annually by a licensed gas contractor.
    • Check your furnace filter and change it regularly.
    • Never leave your vehicle idling in the garage, even if the door is open. Start lawn mowers and snowblowers outside.
    • Open a window to replace air before you light a wood-burning fireplace or woodstove. Keep it open until the fire is completely extinguished.
    • Keep the area around gas equipment clear; it needs air for the flame to burn properly. If the equipment is blocked, the airflow will be stifled which may cause CO.
    • Make sure the furnace and water heater vent pipes to the chimney are in good condition and are securely fastened.
    • Keep furnace panels and grills in place and make sure the fan compartment door is secure.
    • Keep flue vents and chimneys clear of debris and other blockages, including frost and snow.
    • Don’t operate an unvented appliance (e.g. barbecue or portable propane heater) in an enclosed space, such as a garage, ice shack, tent, shop, shed, automobile, RV or trailer, or near any combustible materials.
    • Never operate a generator in a house, garage or any enclosed building.
    • Make sure your licensed gas contractor install an adequately sized combustion air supply duct in your furnace room or near your gas appliances. This is especially important for homes being upgraded for increased energy efficiency.
    • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for proper operation and care of heating equipment and appliances.
    • Never tamper with, or attempt to adjust, heating devices or safety controls on heating equipment and appliances.
    • If you are adding exhaust fans, making changes to the ventilation system, or upgrading your home for increased energy efficiency (like adding more insulation), consult a qualified heating contractor. These changes may impact the operation of your existing gas appliances, and potentially lead to CO.

What to Do If Your CO Detector Alarm Goes Off

Remain calm. Take the following steps to determine the reason for the alarm:

  • If someone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning

    Everyone should leave the house immediately and seek medical treatment if required. Call 911 (or your local fire department if you live in an area without 911 coverage) as soon as you are in a safe location outside of your home.

    • Do not re-enter your home until the CO level had been checked and it is deemed safe to do so.
    • Do not re-occupy your home until the sources of the CO has been found and eliminated.
  • If no one is experiencing symptoms

    • Shut off any gas appliances and open the doors and windows to ventilate your home.
    • If your alarm stops while your home ventilates, you may have low levels of CO in your home. Call a qualified gas contractor to check your gas appliances as soon as possible.
    • Other possible causes of CO in your home can include:
      • Vehicle exhaust entering your home
      • Burning of candles or oil lamps
      • Cigarette smoke
    • If the alarm continues to sound with your home ventilated, your detector may be at the end of its life cycle (3-5 years) or the batteries may need to be replaced.
    • Other known reasons for false alarms:
      • Prolonged humidity, if installed near a bathroom or an open window when it's humid outside
      • Chemicals and cleaning products
      • Lint, dust or hair built up on sensors.

Maintenance Videos

The following videos demonstrate how to safely maintain your gas appliances and equipment:


How to maintain your gas appliance wall vents.


How to safely do maintenance on your gas fireplace.


How to properly check your chimney.

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