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Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide safety

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Carbon monoxide (CO): A colourless, odourless, tasteless and poisonous gas produced by burning carbon fuels.

What are the sources of CO?

CO is created when fuels are burned incompletely in propane, natural gas, oil, wood, charcoal, alcohol, kerosene and gasoline. There are a number of household appliances that can produce CO: gas-fired furnaces, boilers, hot water tanks, stoves, dryers and fireplaces just to name a few. You’ll want to get these checked out—along with your home’s venting systems and fresh air supply—at least once a year to make sure they’re working safely.


What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

  1. Headaches
  2. Confusion
  3. Vomiting
  4. Weakness
  5. Dizziness
  6. Chest pains

As CO builds up in the bloodstream, symptoms change and will magnify. Look out for:

  • Increased confusion and drowsiness
  • Fast breathing, fast heartbeat, or increased chest pain
  • Vision problems
  • Seizures

What to do if you suspect CO poisoning


If you believe you’re being poisoned by CO, or if your CO alarm goes off:

  1. Turn your appliances off
  2. Get everyone out of the building, including pets
  3. Call 911 or your local emergency number
  4.  Seek medical attention.

If you are unable to leave your home, move next to an open window or an open door. Don’t return to the area until you’re sure it’s safe—if you’re not sure, wait for the fire department or Fortis BC to tell you everything is OK.


How to prevent CO exposure


Schedule an annual appliance inspection

A licensed gas contractor can tell you if your gas appliances (your stove, furnace, fireplace, etc.) and venting systems are in good working order. Find a licensed gas contractor and book an inspection here.


Install a CO alarm

When choosing a CO alarm, look for a certification mark from a certification body accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, and is considered acceptable in BC. Then:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions that in most cases say to put your CO alarms  in the hallway outside your bedrooms and on each level of your home.
  • If your alarm isn’t hardwired, check your batteries twice a year. If it’s more than seven years old (check the end of life date), it’s time to get a new one.

Note that CO alarm units with sealed lithium batteries require no battery replacement or maintenance.


Never ignore the sound of a CO alarm

When the alarm sounds, always investigate. Although the alarm can be triggered by gases or conditions other than CO, it’s important to determine the cause so that you can prevent a worst case scenario.

Make sure you know the difference between an alarm sound versus the low battery or end of life warning.

Only working CO alarms save lives. If you have a broken or expired CO alarm, replace it and make sure it gets recycled properly. There are over 200 recycling locations across BC where you can drop off your CO alarm for recycling—for free. Learn more at productcare.org/alarms.

Never operate portable fuel-burning devices indoors

Portable fuel-burning devices such as camp stoves, barbecues or generators can quickly produce a buildup of CO when used indoors, in closed spaces or near open windows.


Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week

Did you know that 71% of Canadians either do not know the signs of carbon monoxide buildup in their home or are unsure of what the signs are? (You can read our full report here. Findings like these reinforce the need for more awareness around this deadly gas.

That’s why the first week of November is Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week in BC. During this time, fire departments, life safety educators, government and industry work together to raise awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and how to avoid exposure to this colourless, odourless gas.

The effects of CO poisoning can be devastating, and every year people die or are hospitalized due to exposure. You can help prevent CO poisoning in BC by having all fuel-burning appliances in your home serviced each year and by having functioning CO alarms that can signal an alert when the gas is present.

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