Stay Safe from Carbon Monoxide at Home

CDC graphic showing danger from carbon monoxide (CO2) poisoning: it can't be seen, can't be smelled, can't be heard, but it CAN be stopped.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that can cause severe illness or death. What makes it so difficult to detect is that it is odorless and colorless. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 430 people in the United States die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning every year. And each year, around 50,000 people go to the emergency department from CO poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is produced any time fossil fuels are burned. During a power outage, the use of gas generators or outdoor grills in carports or too close to the home can trap CO in the home and cause CO poisoning. Other possible sources of CO include small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems.

Text about information on fire prevention workshops.Here are ways to stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning:

  1. Do not use items that produce carbon monoxide inside your home or garage or outside an open window.
  2. Never use gas ovens to heat your home, even for a short time.
  3. If you use a fireplace or wood stove, make sure that chimneys and flues are in good condition and are not blocked.
  4. Never idle a car in a garage, even when the garage door is open.
  5. Make sure carbon monoxide alarms are installed on every level of your home and outside every sleeping area. Test your CO alarms along with your smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.

If your home CO alarm beeps continuously without stopping, it could indicate that carbon monoxide is present. If your CO alarm is sounding continuously and you have signs of CO poisoning such as dizziness, headache, vomiting, or flu-like symptoms, find fresh air and call 9-1-1 immediately.

Learn what to do if your carbon monoxide alarm sounds in this Seattle Fire Department safety video (YouTube, 02:15).

The Seattle Fire Department provides and installs free combination smoke/CO alarms in the homes of qualifying Seattle homeowners. The smoke/CO alarms are battery-powered and are installed by Seattle firefighters. See if you qualify and get more information here.

Contributor William Mace is a public education and outreach advisor at Seattle Fire Department. For more SFD Safety & Community information, click here.

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of AgeWise King County.