Carbon Monoxide:
Dangers and Detectors


What is invisible, odorless, and colorless, can be found in your home, and can kill you?


Carbon monoxide gas.

Understanding the Risk

What is carbon monoxide?

CO, often called “the silent killer,” is a gas you cannot see, taste, or smell. It can be created when fossil fuels, such as kerosene, gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, methane or wood do not burn properly.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

CO poisoning can result from faulty furnaces or other heating appliances, portable generators, water heaters, clothes dryers or cars left running in garages.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, nausea and drowsiness. Exposure to undetected high levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal.

What is your Risk of CO Poisoning?

According to the National Safety Council, deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning averaged about 700 in 1993. Three of every five CO deaths typically involve vehicles, one of every five involves heating or cooking equipment, and the other one involves other or unspecified cases.

In fact, deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning have dropped sharply in recent years, thanks to lower CO emissions from automobiles and safer heating and cooking appliances. Deaths from smoke inhalation (largely carbon monoxide) in fires and suicides involving CO are far more common causes of gas-related suffocation deaths in the home.

According to the NFPA, there were 242 CO-related non-fire deaths attributed to heating and cooking equipment in 1991. The leading specific types of equipment were:

Gas-fueled space heaters 69
Gas-fueled furnaces 52
Charcoal grills 36
Gas-fueled ranges 23
Portable kerosene heaters 23
Wood stoves 13

As with fire deaths, the risk of unintentional CO death is highest from the very young (ages 4 or under) and the elderly (ages 75 or over).

How Can You Protect Yourself from CO Poisoning?

The best defenses against CO poisoning are safe use of vehicles and proper installation, use and maintenance of household cooking and heating equipment.

You may also want to install CO detectors inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide. However, a CO detector is no substitute for safe use and maintenance of heating and cooking equipment.

Safety Tips:

  • If you need to warm up your vehicle, remove if from the garage immediately after starting the ignition. Do not run a vehicle indoors, even if the garage doors are open.
  • Have your vehicle inspected for exhaust leaks.
  • Have fuel-burning household heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves, and space or portable heaters) checked every year before cold weather sets in. All chimneys and chimney connectors should be evaluated for proper installation, cracks, blockages, or leaks. Make needed repairs before using the equipment.
  • Before using central heating equipment in a smaller room, check with your fuel supplier to ensure that air for proper combustion is provided.
  • When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.
  • Kerosene heaters are illegal in many states. Always check with local authorities before buying or using one. Open a window slightly whenever using a kerosene heater. Refuel outside, after the device has cooled.
  • Always use barbecue grills which can produce carbon monoxide outside. Never use them in the home or garage.
  • When purchasing new heating or cooking equipment, select factory built products approved by an independent testing laboratory. Do not accept damaged equipment. Hire a qualified technician to install the equipment. Follow applicable fire safety and building codes.
  • If you purchase an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems.

If You Buy CO Detectors

Select detector(s) listed by a qualified, independent testing laboratory.

  • Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for placement in the home.
  • Test CO detectors at least once a month, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Replace CO detectors as required, usually every two years.
  • Battery powered CO detectors have unique battery packs designed to last approximately two years, compared to batteries in smoke detectors that require annual replacement.

CO Alarm Installation

  • Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Install and maintain CO alarms inside your home to provide early warning of carbon monoxide.
  • CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area, on every level of the home, and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, have CO alarms that are interconnected throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
  • Combination smoke-CO alarms must be installed in accordance with requirements for smoke alarms.
  • CO alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms and vice versa. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and the sound of CO alarms.

If Your 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 9-1-1 or the fire department from a fresh air location (outdoors or by an open window). Remain at a fresh air location until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.

CO Alarms: Testing and Replacement

  • Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace them if they fail to respond correctly when tested. The sensors in CO alarms have a limited life. Replace the CO alarm according to manufacturer’s instructions or when the end-of-life signal sounds.
  • Know the difference between the sound of the CO alarm and the smoke alarm, and their low-battery signals. If the audible low battery signal sounds, replace the batteries or replace the device. If the CO alarm still sounds, get to a fresh air location and call 9-1-1 or the fire department.
  • To keep CO alarms working well, follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.


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Oberlin, Ohio 44074

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