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Winter Safety Series — Carbon Monoxide Safety

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

inside fireplace

For our last post in the Winter Safety Series, we’re covering something that, while a potential threat all year long, becomes more common during the Winter months. So even though we are nearing the start of Spring and warmer temperatures ahead, there is never a bad time to ensure the safety of your home from what is known as “the invisible killer”: carbon monoxide.

The National Fire Protection Association states that carbon monoxide (CO) is “an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, etc. do not burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO.” In 2016, “local fire departments responded to an estimated 79,600 carbon monoxide incidents, or an average of nine such calls per hour” and in 2017, “399 people died of unintentional non-fire carbon monoxide poisoning.” And unlike what you may think, “a person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.”

It is important to note that “the dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim’s health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.” But, regardless of the health and age of those in your home, it is imperative to do all you can to prevent this from happening and detect it if it does.

Here are some tips from the NFPA to follow to get started in your home:

  1. CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

  2. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.

  3. Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.

  4. Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.

  5. Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  6. If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.

  7. If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.

  8. If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.

  9. During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.

  10. A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.

  11. Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.

For a printable version of these tips and more CO information, click here.

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