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How to make sure your home is safe from carbon monoxide

Don't slack on inspections and maintenance

Illustration of person standing outside of a home surrounded in flames. Credit: Getty Images / Crystaleyestudio

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The dangers facing our home are often difficult to ignore; from fires to burglary your alarm bells will be ringing. But, there’s a silent killer that could be lurking in your home.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas can injure or kill quite easily. Taking proper precautions and preventive measures against high levels of carbon monoxide, which leads to poisoning, is essential for homeowners, especially when it comes to unexpected sources of the gas. Luckily there are carbon monoxide alarms to alert you and your loved ones to any danger.

Get smart about protecting your family members by learning the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, knowing where leaks can start, and installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home.

Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide can sneak up on you—it is, after all, an odorless gas. This is why knowing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can help you know when to seek treatment.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are “headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.”

If you begin experiencing these symptoms call 911 and exit your home to avoid further intoxication.

Follow these steps to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

Clear away snow from the home and exhaust systems in your home

The great joy of winter is getting your arm workout in while shoveling away piles of snow. When it comes to shoveling out your car and home, be thorough when it comes to clearing out ventilation systems.

Snow can block your car's tail pipe and your home's exhaust systems. This sends carbon monoxide back into your home and car. Make sure to clear out snow from these vents to to keep ventilation properly flowing.

And while you may want to get a jumpstart on warming up your car, wait until the back is fully shoveled out so you don't create a danger zone. If you're lucky enough to have a garage which will save you from shoveling, open the garage door while warming up the car.

Starting your car in the garage with the door closed will cause carbon monoxide to fill both your car and your home.

Clean your gas dryer regularly

Hands putting clothes into a clothes dryer
Credit: Getty Images / Anne Boonkerdthinthai

Dryer exhaust vents must be clear at the point of exit, too. Make sure the part that reaches outdoors stays clean and clear.

You may already know that your clothes dryer can present a fire hazard, but did you know your dryer can become the source of a carbon monoxide leak? Gas-powered dryers can become clogged over time with lint and other debris, blocking the ventilation and potentially pushing carbon monoxide fumes into your home rather than outside.

Make sure to keep your dryer clear by cleaning it regularly—including the lint trap, inside the dryer, and the vent ducts. You should clean your lint trap before and after a dryer cycle, and clean your vent pipes once a year, says the National Fire Protection Association.

You should also have your gas dryer inspected occasionally to ensure no potential leaks are possible.

Have your water heater inspected annually

Technician checking the carbon monoxide levels on a gas hot water heater
Credit: Getty Images / BanksPhotos

Make sure the area around the water heater has enough space and ventilation, especially if it's in a small enclosure like in a basement.

A water heater poses several potential opportunities for carbon monoxide leaks. Similarly to a gas dryer, a hot water heater’s exhaust can become blocked over time. If it’s installed improperly, there may be gaps in the exhaust pipes that can eventually leak.

Have your water heater inspected by a technician every year to make sure it is running properly and that the vent pipes are fitted tightly. Hot water heaters should also be properly ventilated with horizontal vent pipes, ensuring that fumes move up and out of the home.

Use gas stoves and ovens with caution, and never to heat your home

Gas stove with blue flames
Credit: Getty Images / Gangis_Khan

If your gas stove is emitting orange color flames, this can be a sign of elevated CO levels, so get it checked out by a pro.

Many home cooks prefer gas stoves and ovens over electric for cooking purposes, but it’s crucial to use this appliance with caution.

Remember to never use your gas stove or oven to heat your home—not only does this not heat your home well, but the appliance will give off excess carbon monoxide fumes when used for an extended period of time, making it a dangerous activity.

If you have kids in the home who like to mess with stove knobs, make sure you double check before leaving the kitchen that they’re turned off. Or, you can also use stove knob covers to keep curious children from playing with the knobs in the first place.

When using a gas stove, oven, or fireplace indoors, ensure you have proper ventilation in your kitchen, like a range hood that leads directly outdoors. Regular inspection and maintenance of your gas range or oven are essential in catching a device that isn’t properly working.

Keep your chimney clear for proper ventilation

Room with a white brick fireplace with firewood to burn on the side
Credit: Getty Images / Image Source

Unlike traditional and gas fireplaces, electric ones are safe from the danger of carbon monoxide leaks.

When it comes to fireplaces, both wood-burning and gas models pose risks for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is created naturally by wood-burning fireplaces due to the combustion, or burning, of the wood. Gas fireplaces work similarly to other gas appliances, relying on a gas line to ignite the flame and push out warmth to the room.

Chimneys must be intact and remain clear in order to allow carbon monoxide and other fumes to escape the home. Built-up debris can create a blockage that allows carbon monoxide to collect inside. If your chimney isn’t in good condition—for example, if bricks are breaking or cracking on the inside—make sure it’s dealt with and repaired before using the fireplace.

Regular inspection of your chimney will reduce the risk of any unforeseen carbon monoxide issues popping up.

Don’t use grills inside

Propane grill on a concrete patio outside.
Credit: Getty Images / tab1962

Never use a propane grill inside; in fact, they shouldn't even be stored inside unless the propane tank has been emptied.

If you own a propane or charcoal grill, do not, under any circumstance, use it indoors or in a garage. These grills create high levels of carbon monoxide, and can quickly fill an enclosed space with harmful fumes.

A safe alternative for grilling up hamburgers indoors is to use an indoor grill, made specifically for indoor use.

Install a carbon monoxide detector

Smoke and carbon monoxide detector attached to brick wall
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

A combined smoke and carbon monoxide detector makes it easy to test both when it's time.

Your most important line of defense in protecting your home is by installing a carbon monoxide detector. When appliances and other items around the home go break down unexpectedly, it’s important to have this backup layer of protection to let you know if you and your household is in danger of high levels of carbon monoxide.

Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector. As you would a smoke detector, you should test the CO detector at least once a year to make sure it works or whether its batteries need to be replaced.

You can also purchase a combination carbon monoxide and smoke detector.

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