Special Feature

Reduce Your Carbon Monoxide Risk

Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. Sources of carbon monoxide include:

  • unvented kerosene and gas space heaters

  • leaking chimneys and furnaces

  • back-drafting from furnaces

  • gas water heaters

  • woodstoves and fireplaces

  • gas stoves

  • automobile exhaust from cars in attached garages.

Fetuses, infants, elderly people and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be affected more quickly by carbon monoxide. At lower levels, carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms: headaches, dizziness, weakness and fatigue. At higher levels, or with prolonged exposure, it can cause confusion, disorientation, impaired vision and coordination, brain damage, coma and death.

Ways to Reduce Risk

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.

  • Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.

  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.

  • Above gas stoves, install and use an exhaust fan that is vented to outdoors.

  • Be sure flues are open when fireplaces are in use.

  • Choose properly sized woodstoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all woodstoves fit tightly.

  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up your central heating system (furnaces, flues and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.

  • Do not idle car inside the garage.

Are There Warning Devices Available?

A variety of carbon monoxide detectors, both plug-in and battery-powered, are available at hardware, home and discount stores. Read packages carefully and compare features. Look for a detector that meets Underwriters Laboratories Safety Standard 2034, which includes the requirement that the detector sound an audible alarm. Patch detectors, which change color in the presence of carbon monoxide, do not by themselves provide adequate warning. If you have family members with special health needs, purchase a detector labelled "super-sensitive." Read the owner's manual completely and be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding installation. 

What to Do if the Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds

If the alarm sounds and anyone is feeling symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, your home may have a potentially dangerous level. Leave the house immediately. Call the fire department, local emergency medical services, poison center, or local utility company from a neighbor's home. If the alarm sounds and no one is feeling any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilate the home by opening windows and doors and turning on fans. Turn off any combustion appliances immediately. Then call an appliance repair technician to find the cause of the alarm.

Source: Minnesota Safety Council, citing the Environmental Protection Agency; Minnesota Department of Health; CenterPoint Energy; Xcel Energy