- What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
- If you develop symptoms
- Sources of carbon monoxide
- Stopping carbon monoxide at the source
- Install carbon monoxide detectors
- Warning signs of carbon monoxide buildup indoors
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas produced from the burning of fuels such as gas, kerosene, oil, propane and wood. You cannot smell it, see it, or taste it, but it can make you very sick. At high levels, carbon monoxide can kill in minutes.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
When carbon monoxide (CO) builds up indoors the air becomes poisonous. When you inhale CO, it gets into your bloodstream and prevents your red blood cells from carrying oxygen. Without oxygen, your body tissue and cells die.
CO poisoning can occur when you breathe in even small amounts of the gas. In high or prolonged doses, it can lead to death.
While you can’t see carbon monoxide, the effects of this poisonous gas on people are easy to see. Being aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning could save your life.
Symptoms may include
It's easy to mistake CO poisoning symptoms for other illnesses, such as the flu. To detect carbon monoxide poisoning, watch for symptoms that:
- only occur when you're at home;
- get better when you leave home and come back when you return;
- are seasonal, for example headaches in winter when heating is used regularly; and
- are experienced by other people or pets in your household.
Who is vulnerable?
Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible to CO poisoning.
Sources of carbon monoxide
To prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, you have to go to the source. All fuel-burning appliances create CO.
Sources of CO include:
- gas- or oil-fired furnaces;
- gas or wood stoves;
- oil-fired boilers;
- gas or wood fireplaces;
- gas- or oil-fired water heaters;
- gas dryers;
- gas barbecues;
- portable generators; and
- fuel-burning space heaters.
In your home
The most common carbon monoxide source is the fuel-burning heating appliance that keeps your home warm in the winter months. That’s why home heating systems are designed to continuously vent CO (and other gases created during the burning process) outside.
When CO is a problem
CO levels can increase to unhealthy levels when fuel-burning heating appliances are not:
- properly installed;
- repaired; or
Poor ventilation contributes to CO build-up in homes, because the gas cannot vent outside. Carbon monoxide can become a problem in any confined space heated by a fuel-burning appliance:
- your furnace room;
- wall tent;
- or camper.
These are just some common examples of spaces that can fill up very quickly with enough CO to cause severe, long-term injury or death.
Snowmobiles and vehicles running inside an attached garage or near a home’s fresh air intake can significantly increase carbon monoxide levels.
Stopping carbon monoxide at the source
The best way to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) exposure is to eliminate this poisonous gas at the source. It’s simple to do.
Use a qualified technician
Always ensure that any fuel-burning appliances — and the supporting ventilation systems — are installed, cleaned and maintained by a qualified technician. Checking references is a good way to ensure high-quality work.
Before initiating any work such as installing, modifying or maintaining your fuel-burning appliances, find out whether you need a permit or a certified journeyperson. To learn more, contact:
- Building Inspections if you're in Whitehorse city limits; or
- the Building Safety and Standards branch.
Only certified oil-burner mechanics can get permits for installing or modifying oil-fired appliances.
Keep your air fresh
CO needs to be vented outside. If you have a chimney or flue, ensure it's not blocked up with:
- ice; or
- foreign objects.
Fresh-air vents must not be covered by items such as furniture or clothing. A qualified technician will make sure that:
- there's enough fresh air coming into the room containing your fuel-burning appliance; and
- the system effectively vents CO outside.
Schedule annual maintenance
The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” does not apply to fuel-burning heating appliances. Every fuel-burning heating appliance — new or old — has the potential to generate dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) without any obvious signs of failure. You may have no idea that something is wrong until it’s too late.
Regular maintenance is your best line of defence against CO poisoning. It’s easy with a qualified technician. It’s also affordable and will save you money over time. A well-maintained home heating system uses less fuel and will need to be replaced less often. Have a qualified technician check your fuel-burning heating appliances, including chimney inspection and cleaning, on a yearly basis. If you have tenants, make sure you schedule yearly maintenance for their homes too.
It’s as simple as adding an item to your fall to-do list:
- stock freezer with fish;
- winterize the boat;
- cut firewood; and
- call a qualified technician to service the home heating system.
Adding this to your to-do list could save lives. Include the annual maintenance of your home heating system in your personal calendar.
Pay attention to large exhaust appliances
Large exhaust appliances, such as clothes dryers and range hoods, can depressurize a home. This creates a situation where CO that would normally vent outside is pulled into your home. It's a good idea to have your home ventilation system, and its potential to depressurize, assessed by a qualified technician.
For more information on depressurization, phone Yukon Housing Corporation: 867-667-5759.
Install carbon monoxide detectors
While not a replacement for proper installation and regular maintenance, carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are an excellent 2nd line of defence. Every Yukon residence with a fuel burning appliance or an attached garage must have CO detectors installed. It’s the law.
Choose a CO detector
A carbon monoxide (CO) detector looks like a smoke alarm. A CO detector is easy to install and maintain, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions. When choosing a CO detector, look for the CSA Blue Flame mark and the reference "CSA 6.19" — the most up-to-date Canadian standard. This shows that the CO detector met recognized standards for safety in Canada.
You can also choose to purchase a combination smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. If you do so, make sure it also meets the Canadian standard for smoke alarms: "CAN/ULC S531".
Install tested and CSA-approved detectors on each level of your home or your tenant's home, within 5 metres of each bedroom. These will warn you of dangerous levels of CO, giving you and your family, or tenants time to escape.
Do not install a detector near:
- windows or vents;
- heating or fuel-burning appliances;
- smoke alarms (unless a combination alarm); or
- the peak of a vaulted ceiling.
Maintain your CO detectors
Add these simple items to your personal calendars:
- test detectors once a month;
- change batteries annually; and
- replace when required (approximately every 5 to 10 years, depending on the detector).
Warning signs of carbon monoxide buildup indoors
Your home or your tenant's home unit may show signs that carbon monoxide (CO) levels are rising. CO detectors do not alarm until CO levels are a serious risk. However, occupants may be affected by continuous, low-levels of CO before the alarm is triggered.
Keep an eye out for:
- loose, disconnected, water-streaked or rusted chimneys or vent connectors;
- discolouration of gas- or oil-fired appliances or heating system vents;
- increased window condensation;
- sick or dying pets or plants;
- soot build-up or discolouration on fireplaces; and
- a lazy gas flame that's yellow or orange and not a sharp blue.
When in doubt, always phone a qualified technician to do a safety check in your home or your tenant's home. It’s simple to do, and it could save lives.