Be In The Know About CO

This archived article is from January 2005. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a tasteless, colourless and odourless poisonous gas often referred to as “the silent killer.” It is produced when fuels such as natural gas, oil, wood, propane and kerosene don’t get enough air to burn up completely. Damaged or blocked venting inside heating systems, as well as inadequate air flow can allow CO to build up inside the home.

CO continues to be a considerable safety issue in Canada.  In 2002, over 12,000 calls related to carbon monoxide were received in Ontario alone. Statistics also reveal that close to 15 percent of the incidents investigated by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) at private dwellings or residential locations involved CO.

When TSSA examined these incidents it identified human factors as the leading cause.  This clearly indicates that taking safety precautions could help reduce the number and/or severity of CO incidents.

The best way to ensure that you and your family are not exposed to the dangers of CO is to eliminate it at the source. Make maintenance of your fuel burning appliances, equipment and venting systems an absolute priority.

In the absence of CO alarms, the only way to know if carbon monoxide is present is if the physical symptoms of CO poisoning become apparent. But by then it might be too late to avoid injury.

Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. They are similar to the flu - nausea, headache, burning eyes, confusion and drowsiness - except there is no fever. If they appear, get everyone, including pets, outside to fresh air immediately and call 911 or the local fire department.

Be Alarmed!

Proper maintenance of fuel-burning appliances, such as furnaces, and their venting systems is your best defence against the dangers of carbon monoxide in your home. Your second line of defence is the installation of certified CO alarms. They will warn you of rising levels of carbon monoxide giving you and your family the time to escape the hazard and correct the problem.

Since CO alarms do not detect fire or smoke and smoke alarms do not detect CO, your home needs both CO and smoke alarms. Install them on every level of your home or cottage in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. Units that combine the function of both CO and smoke alarms into one are available. Once installed, remember to test your alarms once a month by pushing the test button on the unit.

No CO or smoke alarm can work if the batteries are dead. Batteries need to be replaced twice a year. A good way to remember is to change the batteries when you change your clocks in the spring and fall.

Like most things, CO and smoke alarms wear out with age. They have to be replaced in order to ensure maximum effectiveness and safety for your family.  Check the manufacturer’s instructions for information on when yours should be replaced.

Annual Inspections A Must

In Canada, we depend on our heating systems to keep us safe and warm when the thermometer plunges and the snow flies. It not only makes sense to check and maintain your furnace, it is vitally important. Heating systems that consume fuel such as gas, oil or wood need to be inspected and maintained annually. It’s the only way to ensure efficient and safe operation.

While you can and should change filters and check for leaks, the only person qualified to inspect your natural gas, propane or oil furnace is a certified heating technician.

TSSA offers these maintenance tips:

  • Avoid “fly-by-nighters” - especially people who show up at your door offering special deals.
  • Ask a friend or your fuel supplier for recommendations.
  • Obtain at least three written estimates that include the type of work being done, who will do the work as well as start and completion dates.
  • Determine whether repairs are covered by a warranty.
  • Furnace inspections are your responsibility. If you don’t arrange it, it won’t get done! Don’t forget! Have your furnace inspected annually.

Source: Technical Standards and Safety Authority

TSSA is an independent, not for profit, self-funded, organization that administers and enforces public safety under Ontario’s Technical Standards & Safety Act, 2000. Visit its safety information Web site.