Not Following These 7 Rules Could Expose Your Family to Carbon Monoxide Poisioning

It's time—right now—to make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are in place and working to protect you and your family from this silent killer.

Why carbon monoxide is so dangerous

dangeriStock/vadimguzhva Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most dangerous gasses that can accumulate in your home, especially in winter, as more Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the cold weather months than at any other time of year, according to a recent study. And because CO is colorless, odorless, and impossible to detect without a carbon monoxide alarm, it can literally kill you before you have a clue what's happening. "Each year, more than 400 people die from accidental CO poisoning," says Sage Singleton, a safety expert at SafeWise, a home safety company. "Because it's a silent killer, it's essential to safeguard your home and educate your family." Watch for these other winter dangers and learn how to stay safe.

Stop the leaks

leakiStock/ninode Any home appliance or equipment that burns natural gas, oil, coal, charcoal, propane, or wood can produce carbon monoxide, according to Richard Ciresi, a spokesperson for Aire Serv, a global HVAC company, in Louisville, Kentucky. Once a year, make it a must to have these items inspected by a professional. "Follow the guidelines on your appliances, too, and replace any units that are damaged or outdated," suggests Sam Tadesse, president of Marina Security Services in San Francisco. These are the systems and appliances that require regular inspection.
  • Furnaces
  • Boilers
  • Water heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Ovens and ranges
  • Wood burning stoves
  • Space heaters
  • Charcoal and propane grills
  • Backup generators
  • Automobiles
  • Gas-powered lawn mowers

Detector placement matters

detectoriStock/sturti Dedicated carbon monoxide detectors are a must to protect you from CO poisoning—but you can't just stick them anywhere and expect them to work. To keep your family safe, Ciresi suggests you install CO alarms in these hot spots:
  • On every floor of your home, so you can hear the alarm no matter where you are
  • Right outside sleeping areas to ensure no one sleeps through the alarm
  • Near appliances that could leak carbon monoxide but still at least 15 feet away to prevent false alarms
  • On or near the ceiling where hot air carrying CO gas is likely to accumulate
  • Away from drafty areas such as windows and air registers
  • Away from the bathroom where high humidity could cause false alarms
  • Out of direct sunlight to help prevent false alarms

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When in doubt, test

testiStock/leekris How you know if your carbon monoxide detector is working: Test it. To do so, check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit. In general, however, testing involves these four steps:
  • Press and hold the "Test" button for a few seconds. Loud beeping indicates the detector is working correctly.
  • Release the button.
  • Change the batteries if the unit fails the test.
  • Replace the detector immediately if replacement batteries don't make a difference.

Know the signs of CO poisoning

signsiStock/Jay_Zynism If you or a family member experiences a number of the following symptoms, you may have CO poisoning. If so, get outside as fast as possible and call 911 immediately.
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • confusion and drowsiness
  • fast heart beat and chest pain
  • vision problems
  • seizures

Filter the dryer bunnies

lintiStock/mphillips007 If you have a gas dryer, the lint in your dryer vent can pose a CO danger. "In addition to posing a fire hazard, all those dirty lint bunnies blocking your dryer exhaust can force carbon monoxide into your living space," says Ciresi. Don't miss the other household items you should be cleaning more often.

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Reduce your exposure

exposureiStock/Manuel-F-O The best way to fully protect your family from carbon monoxide gas is to install UL-listed appliances rated for safe performance, and never run unvented combustion appliances inside, including generators and charcoal grills. "Also, never idle the car or lawn mower in an attached garage, even with the garage door open," Ciresi says. "Seal the wall between your house and an attached garage to reduce fume leaks into the living space. And never rely on a gas oven, stovetop, or clothes dryer to heat your home." Check the other little things that could be making your home a fire hazard.

Conduct drills

drilliStock/Johnny-Greig Remember fire drills in elementary school? Hopefully you never had to put that practice to use in real life, but the skills were there in case of emergency. Do the same thing in your home. Talk to your kids about how to respond in case they hear the CO or fire alarms go off. Develop a game plan and do a test run, so that if the worst happens, everyone knows how to get to safety. These are the everyday emergencies the whole family should know how to manage.

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