Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, and poisonous gas that’s created when fuels like natural gas, propane, oil, wood, kerosene, and coal are burned — and it’s most likely to become a problem during the winter months, when fireplaces, wood stoves, and furnaces are running. If the ventilation systems for these appliances are blocked or damaged, carbon monoxide can build up and leak into your home. Even a small amount can put you at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here are five simple steps you can take to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and keep your family safe and sound all year round:
- Sound the alarms. The most valuable action you can take to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning is installing a carbon monoxide detector that has been certified by the Canadian Standard Association. Install at least one alarm on each level of your home, near your family’s main sleeping areas, and make sure it’s not blocked by furniture or drapes. Follow the maintenance instructions that came with your alarm, take a minute each month to test it, and replace the batteries and the unit itself as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Keep the BBQ where it belongs. While it may be tempting to bring the barbeque into the garage or basement for a winter grill session (or for heat during a power outage), it’s extremely dangerous. Outdoor appliances are only intended to be used outdoors, where gases can flow freely in the open air. Never bring an outdoor gas appliance inside (including generators, lanterns, or any other appliances with gas-powered engines).
- Maintain your maintenance schedule. Have your fuel-burning appliances (like your furnace, hot water heater, and wood-burning stove, for example) inspected by a qualified professional at least once each year, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for other required maintenance. If you have a chimney, you should have it inspected and cleaned by a licensed professional no less than once a year.
- Mind your vents. Throughout the year, regularly walk around your home and make sure all ventilation systems (like floor vents, dryer vents, and chimneys) are clear of debris or other obstructions that could block carbon monoxide from making its way outside. In the winter, bundle up and head outside to check your furnace intake and exhaust pipes. During extremely cold weather, water vapour in the pipes can freeze, which can close them off completely and let carbon monoxide build up inside your home. And remember, while these pipes are usually installed above your region’s average snow line, heavy snowfalls can still block them off. But don’t break out your shovel to clear the area — remove snow by hand to avoid damaging the pipes.
- Know the signs. Mild or moderate exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to symptoms like dull headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, confusion, blurred vision, or physical weakness. If you have any of these symptoms and notice that they go away when you’re outside, get the rest of your family (including pets) out of your home and contact your local fire department.
When you’re preparing your home for winter this year, add these five steps to your to-do list to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and keep your family safe.
These are just a few of the safety measures you can take to protect your household from carbon monoxide poisoning. Check out the Government of Canada’s website for more.
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