Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. It can form in homes when there is not enough fresh air for complete combustion of fuel in furnaces, wood-burning stoves and other fuel-burning appliances. Other common sources of CO include motor vehicle exhaust, fireplaces, gasoline-powered engines or machines, charcoal-burning barbecue grills, kerosene heaters and appliances.

CO alarms come in a various shapes and sizes and are made by several different manufacturers; some CO alarms are dual purpose, a combination CO and smoke alarm. When a dual purpose alarm goes off here is a tip to help you tell if it is the fire alarm or the CO alarm. If the alarm omits three (3) beeps within a second of each other, then it is the smoke alarm. If the alarm omits four (4) beeps within a second of each other, then it is the CO alarm.

What happens if carbon monoxide is inhaled?

When inhaled, CO combines with the blood and prevents it from absorbing oxygen. When this oxygen-deficient blood reaches the heart and brain, it can damage those organs and cause illness or death.

What should you do if your carbon monoxide alarm sounds?

  1. Assess the health of people in the house. Call 9-1-1 if anyone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning, such as headache, dizziness, breathing difficulties, nausea, cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin) or unconsciousness.
  2. If there appears to be no immediate health hazards, call Centerpoint Energy for assistance, 612.372.5050, or an appliance repair service.
  3. Open windows to ventilate the home.
  4. Consider leaving the home until assistance arrives, to avoid the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.

How is CO created?

As homes become more energy efficient, or if they are not properly ventilated, they can have a shortage of fresh air. When fuel-burning appliances and other equipment are inadequately vented or if they malfunction, they can create CO. Carbon monoxide can accumulate in your home during the winter when ventilation is generally poorest.

What are the signs of CO poisoning & build-up?

  • Symptoms of CO poisoning. These include: sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, or other flu-like symptoms.
  • Signs that a fuel-burning appliance is not receiving enough fresh air for combustion. These include: excessive humidity in the house indicated by heavily frosted windows; a peculiar, stale odor and burning eyes when an appliance is operating; a fireplace that doesn't draw properly.

To prevent CO buildup

  • Make sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly vented with an adequate fresh air supply and are in good operating condition.
  • Never use a charcoal barbecue grill inside your home or garage.
  • Never run an automobile inside a garage.
  • Perform annual maintenance checks on your home ventilation system, fireplace and chimney. Contact a heating contractor.

Purchasing a carbon monoxide detector for your home

Carbon monoxide detectors are the only way to detect dangerous levels of CO in your home. Features to look for include:

  • The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) symbol, it ensures that a product meets the recommended safety standards of the American National Standards Institute.
  • A memory feature that allows you to check for high readings that may have occurred while you were out or sleeping.
  • A unit that plugs into your electrical source and a battery backup in the event of power failure.
  • A digital readout of the amount of CO. This will help you determine how you should respond. A high readout requires immediate evacuation of the home and possibly medical attention. A lower reading gives you an opportunity to contact a utility company such as Centerpoint Energy or an appliance repair service.
  • Purchase a unit that does not require a sensor replacement after a false alarm.

For more information about carbon monoxide detectors, go to the Minnesota State Fire Marshal's website.