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How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Posted in Air Quality, on October 18, 2018

Being aware of how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home is one of the most important home safety techniques you should know. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that has life threatening consequences if it is allowed to form indoors. The good news is that there are simple safety measures you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Knowing what causes carbon monoxide to form and what the symptoms of poisoning are can help you be aware of potential risks and causes, and lead to strategies to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

To understand what carbon monoxide poisoning is, we have to rewind for a moment - to what carbon monoxide is. Known as the silent killer because of its lack of smell and inability to be seen, carbon monoxide is a gas produced by burning fuels like gas, oil, wood, kerosene or charcoal. What makes it so dangerous - and causes poisoning - is that when you breathe it in, carbon monoxide creates a strong bond with your blood cells and prevents the transfer of life-giving oxygen to your body and brain. It effectively starves your body of oxygen. Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is so important because at moderate levels it can become deadly within only a few minutes.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain and an increased heart rate
  • Vision problems

Three ways to tell if these symptoms may be caused by carbon monoxide exposure are:

  • Other people in the same environment are experiencing the same symptoms.
  • Symptoms disappear or improve once you leave that environment and recur when you return.
  • Symptoms appear seasonally/situationally (for example, when you turn on or use a specific appliance)

If you are concerned that you are being exposed to carbon monoxide, leave the area immediately and call 911. Carbon monoxide equally affects people and their pets, so make sure you take any four legged friends with you too.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The first step to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to understand how it forms. Common sources of carbon monoxide indoors are:

  • Cars, trucks, and other gas-burning engines left running in an enclosed space like the garage - this includes idling! Jet skis, snowmobiles and motorboats that are left running at a low speed can also be dangerous.
  • Fuel burning appliances that have been installed incorrectly, damaged, or used wrong are also common culprits of carbon monoxide poisoning. Some things, like barbecues, oil or gas heaters, charcoal grills,or propane heaters should always be used outdoors.
  • Heating systems like fireplaces and gas stoves should be cleaned or maintained annually to prevent carbon monoxide leaks. Check your flues, chimneys and vents to make sure they’re not blocked or damaged.

How You Can Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Now that you know what carbon monoxide is and what causes it to form in your home, you may already have a few ideas on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. There are a couple of easy changes you can make around your home - read on for our top tips!

  1. Install a carbon monoxide detector. If you don’t have one installed on every level of your home, stop reading this right now and go purchase a carbon monoxide detector. Not only are they easy to find and inexpensive, it’s also the law in Ontario. If you live in a home with fuel burning appliances (such as a furnace, water heater, stove, or fireplace) or have an attached garage, this law applies to your building. Additionally, this law obliges landlords to provide their tenants with a carbon monoxide detector - we once were present where a third-floor unit had its alarms go off due to a leak in the basement. Carbon monoxide detectors come as stand alone or plug-in variations, and many last over a decade without needing to have a battery changed. The law requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes was put forward because of the tragic death of OPP Constable Laurie Hawkins, who died with her family in 2008 when their blocked chimney lead to carbon monoxide poisoning indoors. Many deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning happen overnight while people are sleeping - a carbon monoxide detector will wake you in time to get you and your family to safety should there be a problem overnight.
  2. Know your risks. Since anything that burns fuel can produce carbon monoxide, taking stock of your appliances and ensuring they’re kept in good repair can make a huge difference in your indoor safety. Make sure that you don’t idle in the garage or near vents. Always use fuel burning appliances outdoors (no barbecuing inside please!) and educate each of your family members on safe usage and the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Installing a carbon monoxide detector nearby these appliances can also help to act as an early warning signal if a problem arises.
  3. Keep your vents clear. Ensuring that your appliances are in good repair includes making sure that any vents are kept free of obstructions. Outside of your home, make sure plants, trees, snow, or debris aren’t reducing air intakes or outtakes. Inside, regularly clean out dryer vents (this also helps prevent home fires!), and check your flue and chimney for nests or other animals and debris. Good ventilation throughout your entire house will help in other ways as well, such as reducing the likelihood of mold growth, and create a better, healthier, indoor environment.
  4. Don’t run engines in an enclosed area. In January 1998, 3.5 million people in Quebec (and nearly 1 million in Ontario) were faced with power outages caused by a monumental ice storm that lasted five days. 35 people died - some of them because of carbon monoxide poisoning caused from running gas-powered generators indoors.  Ensuring that you never run engines, grills, stoves, or generators indoors is one of the most important things you can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Even if you leave the windows or garage door open, carbon monoxide gas can still build up to toxic levels in a short period of time.
  5. Clean your wood-burning appliances. The warmth and ambiance of a wood stove or fireplace is a welcome part of the winter months, but ensuring you’re using and maintaining it correctly is important. Keep your flue open until the fire is 100% out - even a few smouldering embers can lead to carbon monoxide. Regular cleaning will help keep your fireplace in good working order and can also prevent chimney fires caused by a buildup of soot. Check the outside of your chimney too!

How SafeAir Can Help You

As you can see, preventing carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t require fancy tools or complete home renovations - simple common sense practices can help keep you and your family safe. But because carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless and small amounts can cause harm and sickness, it’s important to remain vigilant and on top of your indoor air safety.

If you have any questions about your indoor air quality or are interesting in learning more about how you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, SafeAir can help you reduce the risks and improve your home’s indoor air quality. Whether it’s recommending where and how many carbon monoxide detectors to install, or doing a complete home safety assessment (including air quality tests for other irritants like mold, dust, VOCs and more) the SafeAir teams provide specialized air inspection and testing services for residential and commercial customers across the GTA. Because prevention is key to many indoor air quality issues, our teams will work with you to identify any ongoing troubles and prevent future problems that take into account the unique nature of your home or business.

We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about carbon monoxide and the dangers and risks your home may pose to you and your family. To learn more about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home, give us a call at 416-414-5690.

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