Carbon Monoxide Alarm FAQs

General Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Monoxide

1. WHAT IS CARBON MONOXIDE (CO)?

  • Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless poisonous gas that can be fatal when inhaled.
  • It is sometimes called the "silent killer."
  • CO inhibits the blood's capacity to carry oxygen.
  • CO can be produced when burning fuels such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil or wood.
  • CO is the product of incomplete combustion. If you have fire, you have CO.

2. WHERE DOES CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) COME FROM?

  • 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.

3. WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) POISONING?

  • Initial symptoms are similar to the flu without a fever and can include dizziness, severe headaches, nausea, sleepiness, fatigue/weakness and disorientation/confusion.

4. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) EXPOSURE?

  • Common Mild Exposure - Slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms.
  • Common Medium Exposure - Throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate.
  • Common Extreme Exposure - Convulsions, unconsciousness, brain damage, heart and lung failure followed by death.
  • If you experience even mild CO poisoning symptoms, immediately consult a physician!

5. ARE THERE ANY STEPS I CAN TAKE TO PREVENT CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) POISONING?

  • Properly equip your home with carbon monoxide alarms on every level and in sleeping areas. The only safe way to detect CO in your home is with a CO alarm.
  • Every year have the heating system, vents, chimney and flue inspected by a qualified technician.
  • Regularly examine vents and chimneys for improper connections, visible rust and stains.
  • Install and operate appliances according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Only purchase appliances that have been approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
  • Never use a gas range/stove to heat the home.
  • Never leave your car idling in a closed garage or use fuel-powered appliances or tools in enclosed, attached areas such as garages or porches. Carbon monoxide can seep into your home through vents and doors.

6. DO I NEED A CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) ALARM? WHERE SHOULD IT BE INSTALLED?

  • Every home with at least one fuel-burning appliance/heater, attached garage or fireplace should have a CO alarm.
  • 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.
  • An alarm should be installed on every level of the home and in sleeping areas.
  • Place the alarm at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances.
  • Make sure nothing is covering or obstructing the unit.
  • Do not place the unit in dead air spaces or next to a window or door.
  • Test the CO alarm</> 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.

7. SHOULD MY CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) ALARM HAVE A DIGITAL DISPLAY? WHAT DOES THE PEAK LEVEL FUNCTION DO?

  • A digital display allows you to see if CO is present and respond before it becomes a dangerous situation.  
  • Peak Level Memory stores the highest recorded reading prior to being reset. This feature enables you to know if there was a reading while you were away from home, and also can help emergency responders determine the best treatment.

8. WHOM SHOULD I CALL IF MY CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) ALARM GOES OFF?

  • If anyone is experiencing symptoms, you need to get everyone into fresh air and call 911 from a neighbor's home. 
  • If no one is experiencing symptoms, you should call the fire department or a qualified technician from a 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. 
  • Under no circumstance should an alarm be ignored!