Carbon monoxide – known as “the silent killer” – takes the lives of at least 50 Canadians a year.
The worst part? Most of these deaths, and the hundreds of cases of non-fatal poisoning, could be avoided with proper carbon monoxide safety.
Carbon Monoxide – an Odourless, Colourless, and Dangerous Gas
The threat of carbon monoxide is very real for all homeowners because of gas appliances like your furnace and water heater. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a by-product of the burning process.
In high enough concentrations, carbon monoxide can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and even death. It’s especially dangerous because you can’t see it or smell it, and unless you have a working carbon monoxide alarm, you’ll never know it’s there until it’s too late.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause flu–like symptoms without a fever, including:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Burning eyes
- Loss of coordination
If you or someone in your home experiences any of these symptoms, leave the house immediately and call an emergency number from a safe distance away.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
There are ways that you can protect your home, yourself, and your family from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
1. Get a Carbon Monoxide Alarm
The biggest step towards carbon monoxide safety is to make sure your carbon monoxide alarms are properly installed and working. This is mandatory in Ontario as of 2014. They cost less than $50, and are a life-saving necessity.
These alarms should be installed on every floor, and near all sleeping areas. They should also be at least 10 feet away from any fuel-burning appliances – too close, and it could be set off.
Nowadays, alarms are state of the art – they have digital displays, a multi-sensor, and lithium batteries with a 10-year lifespan. When you begin to get close to that timeline, you should consider not just changing the battery, but replacing the alarm.
If you do not have a lithium battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm, you should change the batteries with Daylight Savings – when your clocks change in the spring and fall, so should your batteries. It’s a good way to keep track, and ensure it’s working.
A properly installed at up to date alarm will be able to detect any carbon monoxide leaks, and alert you to the impending danger.
2. Have Your Furnace Serviced Annually
Your furnace could be the biggest source for carbon monoxide if it is not properly maintained. As a fuel-burning appliance, you need to pay attention to your furnace. Without attention, it could develop cracks that can allow deadly carbon monoxide to leak into your home.
Did you know that we offer protection plans for your furnace and air conditioner which includes a carbon monoxide test and printed report? Find out more >
3. Install Smoke Alarms and Fire Extinguishers
Part of home safety is being prepared in case of a fire. You may think this doesn’t have anything to do with carbon monoxide, but it does! A fire has the potential to release carbon monoxide into the air. That’s why smoke alarms and extinguishers are doubly important.
Tip: You can get alarms that are both a smoke alarm AND a carbon monoxide alarm! Just make sure they are properly installed and frequently tested.
Smoke alarms are also required by law in Ontario, and must appear on every floor and outside sleeping areas in your home.
If your smoke alarm battery is not a lithium battery, it should be replaced once a year. Your smoke alarm should be entirely replaced at least every 10 years.
Regardless of what kind of smoke alarm you have, you should check the alarm frequently by pressing and holding the test button.
Fire extinguishers should be located in areas that are most likely to be the origin of a fire. This includes:
- The kitchen – think of how many things use gas and electricity, or how many times your cooking experiments haven’t gone quite right!
- The furnace area
- Your garage
You should also have fire extinguishers located in your bedroom in case of a nighttime fire, and have some located along your planned escape route.
Don’t have an escape route? That’s the next item on the list!
4. Make an Exit Plan
It’s better to have a plan and not need it than need a plan and not have it. We recommend coming up with an emergency exit plan with the members of your household. This includes:
- Where to meet, and how to contact one another in case you’re not together at the time of the emergency.
- Alternative routes to take through your home based on where the situation – like a carbon monoxide leak – has started.
- Having emergency numbers ready to call as soon as you’re a safe distance away.
- An emergency escape ladder for homes with multiple floors.
The Government of Canada has an Emergency Preparedness Guide with templates you can fill out to help you create your emergency exit plan.
5. Do You Have a Fireplace? You Should Have the Chimney Cleaned Annually
If your home has a fireplace, your chimney should be cleaned and inspected regularly. Birds, animals, and Mother Nature can interfere with your chimney, meaning carbon monoxide doesn’t get vented properly, and filters back into your home.
Take Steps for Proper Carbon Monoxide Safety
Carbon monoxide is the invisible danger in your home that could cause serious harm if you’re unprepared. Take these steps towards proper carbon monoxide safety, including regular furnace maintenance. You’ll rest easier knowing that if there’s an emergency, you’re covered.