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A carbon monoxide alarm could save your life

As the days get colder and we head inside to cocoon until spring, it’s easy to forget the silent yet deadly carbon monoxide (CO) gas that can build up in our homes if we’re not careful.

Most illnesses and deaths due to CO poisoning occur in the home when people are sleeping. To prevent this ‘silent killer’ take proper precautions to stay safe.

What causes CO?

CO is an odourless, poisonous gas produced by devices that burn wood or fossil fuel without enough oxygen. Your furnace, water heater, gas range, space heater, fireplace, woodstove, charcoal grill, barbecue, and dryer can be sources of CO if they’re not installed, vented, or functioning properly. And always back your car out of the garage to let it warm up. Never run snowblowers or other gas-powered engines inside your garage or shed. Even in warmer months, CO poisoning can occur if you’re not careful.

How can I tell if CO is present?

You can’t. Carbon monoxide gas has no smell, colour, or taste. We breathe in CO like normal air with no irritation to our nose or throats. Then, our blood cells attach to CO molecules instead of oxygen molecules, starving our organs of the oxygen they need. That’s why CO is called the ‘silent killer’.

Be alarmed

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.

Install a CO alarm near sleeping areas and on each level of your home. If the alarm sounds, evacuate your home immediately and leave the door open as you exit. Call Manitoba Hydro at 1-888-624-9376 for an emergency inspection. If anyone feels sick, call 911 for medical attention.

Do not ignore an alarm if it sounds. The longer you’re exposed to CO, the more dangerous it becomes. If you or any other occupants in your home have flu-like symptoms, it could be CO poisoning. Early symptoms of CO exposure are like the common flu and can include headaches, fatigue, and nausea, so they’re often overlooked. The difference is CO poisoning will not cause a fever.

To make sure your CO alarm is working properly, test it regularly following the manufacturer’s instructions. Also check the expiration date and be familiar with its beep patterns. A chirping sound may mean the batteries, or the alarm, should be replaced.

Learn more about CO safety.