Carbon Monoxide Awareness

Too many people in BC die or become seriously ill because of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. While the effects of CO poisoning can be devastating, they can be prevented. The best things to do is have all fuel-burning appliances inspected by a licensed contractor every year and install a carbon monoxide alarm that signals an alert when the gas is present.

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by burning fuels such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil or wood. It is also contained in second-hand smoke.
  • CO is the product of incomplete combustion. If you have fire, you have CO.
  • Any fuel-burning appliance that is malfunctioning or improperly installed.
  • Furnaces, gas range/stove, gas clothes dryer, water heater, portable fuel-burning space heaters, fireplaces, generators and wood burning stoves.
  • Vehicles, generators and other combustion engines running in an attached garage.
  • Blocked chimney or flue.
  • Cracked or loose furnace exchanger.
  • Back drafting and changes in air pressure.
  • Operating a grill in an enclosed space.
  • CO is a colorless, odorless and tasteless poisonous gas that can be fatal when inhaled, which is why it’s sometimes called the "invisible killer".
  • Unlike many other toxins and poisons, CO doesn’t irritate your body or cause pain—meaning there’s often no warning or danger signs of its presence. This is why a CO alarm is so important.
  • Initial symptoms are similar to the flu without a fever and can include dizziness, severe headaches, nausea, sleepiness, fatigue/weakness and disorientation/confusion.
  • CO inhibits the blood's capacity to carry oxygen and can cause health problems before you even notice that it's present.
  • At low levels, effects include flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches, shortness of breath and impaired motor functions.
  • At high levels, or if you are exposed to low levels for long periods of time, you can experience dizziness, chest pain, poor vision and difficulty thinking.
  • At very high levels, it can cause convulsions, coma and death
  • If you experience even mild CO poisoning symptoms, immediately consult a physician.
  • Every home with at least one fuel-burning appliance/heater, attached garage or fireplace should have a CO alarm.
  • Ideally, an alarm should be installed on every level of the home and in sleeping areas and placed at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances.
  • Do not install the CO alarm near windows or vents, bathrooms, heating or fuel-burning appliances, smoke alarms (unless a combination alarm) or at the peak of a vaulted ceiling.
  • Make sure nothing is covering or obstructing the unit.
  • Test the CO alarm at least once a month by pressing the test/reset button.
  • Every month, unplug the unit and vacuum with a soft-brush attachment or wipe with a clean, dry cloth to remove accumulated dust.
  • If the home has only one CO alarm, it should be installed in the main bedroom or in the hallway outside of the sleeping area.
  • If anyone is experiencing symptoms, leave your home immediately and move to fresh air. Do not try to locate the source of carbon monoxide. Once outside, call 911 or your local emergency number from a mobile phone or neighbour’s house.
  • If no one is experiencing symptoms, go outside and call the fire department or a qualified technician from a mobile phone or neighbor's home to have the problem inspected.
  • If you are unable to leave the home to call for help, open the doors and windows and turn off all possible sources while you are waiting for assistance to arrive.
  • Return to your home only after the problem has been fixed by a professional.
  • Under no circumstance should an alarm be ignored!
  • Look for CO alarm models with the seal of an approved certification agency such as the Canadian Gas Association or the Canadian Standards Association and the replacement date and warranty period clearly listed.
  • Have the heating system, vents, chimney and flue inspected every year by a licensed contractor. Regularly examine vents and chimneys for improper connections, visible rust and stains.
  • Mercaptan is added to natural gas to make leaks easier to detect and smells like rotten eggs. A natural gas leak is NOT the same as accumulation of carbon monoxide.
  • Install and operate fuel-burning appliances according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Always use portable generators, BBQs, camp stoves or other similar devices away from doors, windows, vents and other openings. Never use them indoors, including inside a garage (even if the doors are open) or other enclosed or partially enclosed area.
  • Never use a gas range, stove or oven to heat the home.
  • Never leave your car idling in a closed garage. If your vehicle has an automatic engine starter, check to make sure your vehicle is off it is in the garage.
  • Never use fuel-powered appliances or tools in enclosed, attached areas such as garages or porches.