Facts about carbon monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

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

How does CO get into your home?

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 improperly vented or they malfunction, they can fill the air in an enclosed space with CO. Consequently, CO can accumulate in your home during winter, when ventilation is generally poorest.

What can you do to prevent CO buildup?

The best precautions against CO buildup are to:

  • Establish a home safety program.
  • Make sure all your fuel-burning appliances are properly vented and 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.

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  • Have your gas furnace, water heater and other appliances checked regularly by a qualified technician for proper operation.
  • Check your vents and chimneys for blockage. Blocked vents and chimneys can cause by-products to be reburned by the furnace; this can result in CO inside your home.
  • Be sure all fuel-burning furnaces, space heaters, water heaters and gas logs are vented to the outside in an approved manner.
  • Install a fresh air supply duct.
  • Consider installing a permanent CO detector in your home. When shopping for a detector, look for the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) symbol. It shows that a product meets recommended safety standards of the American National Standards Institute.

Be alert to signs of CO buildup

These tips will help you prevent CO buildup and recognize the symptoms of CO.

  • Watch for symptoms of CO poisoning. These include sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, or other flu-like symptoms.
  • Watch for 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.