Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste, or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home.


At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health, and the concentration and length of exposure. Carbon monoxide binds to our hemoglobin 200 times faster than oxygen, and when the exposure is high enough, you can develop these symptoms from exposure to carbon monoxide:
  • Cherry-red skin
  • Confusion/stupor
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Possible death

Who is at Risk?

Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Medical experts believe that people with low red blood cell counts, unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens, and people with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for CO poisoning.

What Produces CO Fumes

Carbon monoxide fumes build up where there is poor ventilation, particularly in an enclosed area. The following is a list of items that can produce such deadly fumes:
  • Any type of fuel- burning appliance
  • Burning charcoal
  • Exhaust from cars and trucks
  • Fireplace chimney
  • Gas-burning generators
  • Gas ranges
  • Gas stoves
  • Hot water heater
  • Kerosene lanterns
  • Wood-burning stove

Reduce the Chances of CO Poisoning

To further reduce the chances of you or a loved one becoming overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning, follow these preventive tips:
  • Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal in your home, preferably near sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms, and check it regularly to make sure the battery is working. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm, however, this does not mean that CO is not present. Make sure the alarm has been evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). 
  • Never heat your home with a gas stove/gas range.
  • Never use a charcoal grill or a hibachi in your home.
  • Never use a gas-powered generator or a gas-powered machine in your home or basement.
  • Make sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and maintained by a certified technician.
  • Never use a gas-powered machine by an open window, as fumes can seep into your home.
  • Make sure fireplaces, chimneys, and flues are checked and cleaned every year.
  • Never sit in a car or leave it running in a closed garage.
  • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house. The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup.

If Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off

Below are the actions you need to take if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, depending on whether anyone is feeling ill or not.
If no one is feeling ill:
  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. furnace and fireplace).
  3. Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
  4. Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of the possible CO buildup.
If illness is a factor:
  1. Evacuate all occupants immediately.
  2. Determine how many occupants are ill and determine their symptoms.
  3. Call 911, and when relaying information to the dispatcher, include the number of people feeling ill.
  4. Follow instructions from operator and await the help of a trained medical professional.
  5. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  6. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.