The more you know about CO could save your life

This article was published in November 2021 and may be outdated.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as “the silent killer” because it is an invisible, tasteless, and odourless gas. Being exposed to CO for too long can result in a loss of consciousness, brain damage and, in extreme cases, even death. CO is produced when fuels such as propane, gasoline, natural gas, heating oil, or wood, are burned incompletely in fuel-burning appliances or devices.

What causes CO?

CO is a poisonous gas produced by devices that burn wood or fossil fuel without enough oxygen. Your furnace, water heater, stove, space heater, fireplace, woodstove, charcoal grill, barbecue, and dryer can be sources of CO if they’re not installed, vented, or functioning properly. Running a vehicle or operating fuel-powered equipment inside your garage can also be a CO hazard.

How do I know if CO is present?

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide gas has no odour, colour, or taste. We breathe in CO like normal air with no irritation to our nose or throats. Then, our blood cells attach with CO molecules instead of oxygen molecules, starving our organs from the oxygen they need. For these reasons, CO is called the “the silent killer”.

The best way to alert you and your family to CO is to install a CO alarm. It works like a smoke alarm – if CO is detected, the alarm will sound to warn you before toxic levels are reached.

What if my alarm goes off?

Evacuate your home immediately and then leave the door open as you exit. The longer you’re exposed to CO, the more dangerous it becomes. Call Manitoba Hydro at 1-888-624-9376 for an emergency inspection. If anyone feels sick, call 911 for medical attention.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

Early symptoms of CO exposure are like the common flu and can include a headache, fatigue, and nausea so they’re often overlooked. The difference is CO poisoning will not cause a fever.

Higher exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, disorientation, and loss of muscle control. Extreme exposure usually leads to unconsciousness and death. Too often, death from CO poisoning results with the victim simply falling asleep and never regaining consciousness.

How do I protect myself and my family from CO poisoning?

Install a CO alarm on each level of your home, especially near sleeping areas. Test alarms regularly, know the meaning of the “beep” patterns, and replace the batteries when needed. Most CO alarms last seven to 10 years and need to be replaced when expired.

Also ensure your gas heating equipment and appliances are inspected by a qualified heating contractor at least once a year. When using natural gas appliances, check for a blue flame – a yellow flame indicates CO. Keep external vents free of leaves and debris. Never use a barbecue, camp stove, fuel-burning heater, or portable generator inside your home or garage.

Always back your car out of the garage to let it warm up. Never run lawnmowers, snowblowers, or other gas-powered engines inside your garage or shed.

Learn more about CO safety.