Carbon Monoxide (CO) is the #1 cause of poisonings in the U.S., but less than 5% of those poisonings are reported because most go undetected until it’s too late.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially deadly gas that is caused by unburned fuels. A common source of carbon monoxide gas that can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning is a vehicle left running in an enclosed area produces carbon monoxide gas. Appliances, such as dryers, water heaters, and ovens can also produce the gas. Generators used during power outages can also lead to carbon monoxide exposure.
Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless, making it highly dangerous because it is nearly impossible to identify without a proper detector. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that on average, 480 people are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning each year. Many of these deaths occur during power outages, when generators were used indoors and in the absence of detectors, or when carbon monoxide detectors were not functioning properly.
Installing carbon monoxide detectors
Installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home can help prevent incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning. These detectors can be battery operated or plugged into a wall outlet. It is important that units wired into the home electrical system have a battery backup in the event of a power outage, especially if your home has a generator as a backup power source.
The following safety tips can help ensure that your carbon monoxide detector is properly installed and working correctly:
- Use a detector that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard.
- Place detectors in the hallway near every sleeping area in the home.
- Make sure no furniture or curtains are blocking the detector.
- Avoid installing carbon monoxide detectors in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances, such as above a gas range.
- Always follow all manufacturer instructions to install and test your detector.
How to reduce your exposure to carbon monoxide
In addition to installing CO detectors, following these steps can help reduce your exposure risk:
- Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
- Operate generators outside only. Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open.
- Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking. Do not barbeque in the garage.
- Never use a gas range or oven for heating your home.
What if a carbon monoxide detector is triggered?
If a carbon monoxide detector is triggered in your home, move outside into fresh air immediately. If possible, open windows as you move outdoors to help circulate fresh air. Never re-enter your home until you have called 911, and the appropriate authorities have examined the premises and given you permission to do so.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a deadly threat and should be taken seriously. Installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home can help alert you when toxic levels of carbon monoxide are present, and help to avoid exposure to the gas.
For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and additional safety tips, visit the Consumer Products Safety Commission website. https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Carbon-Monoxide-Information-Center/Carbon-Monoxide-Questions-and-Answers-/.
 This is especially true since most incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning occur during power outages. Id.