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Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors should be part of every home’s safety practices. To understand more about carbon monoxide, detectors, and what you can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home, take a few minutes to learn what it is, where it comes from, and how you can best protect yourself and your family from this deadly gas.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is present in the air we breathe; however, in large concentrations it can lead to negative health effects and even death. Early warning signs of CO poisoning are:

  • headache
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath

Longer term exposure causes:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • confusion
  • blurred vision
  • loss of consciousness
  • death

As with any respiratory condition, the very young, the elderly, and those who suffer from respiratory illnesses are the most vulnerable.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?
Equally important to knowing the symptoms of CO poisoning is knowing the sources of CO. CO is primarily generated from any device or appliance in your home that burns fuel. Fuel includes oil, gas, propane, wood, kerosene, and coal. Common sources of CO in the home include:

  • furnaces
  • boilers
  • fireplaces
  • gas stoves and ovens
  • water heaters
  • clothes dryers

Additional sources of CO can also be portable generators if they are not operated safely outside of the home (see our blog on Portable Generator Safety) and motor vehicles when left running in a garage connected to the home. Even with the garage door open, it is never safe to run a vehicle inside a garage.

Preventing CO Poisoning
Just because a device or appliance is a source of CO doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or should invite fear, but it does mean you need to practice a few safety precautions.

  1. First and foremost, make sure any fuel burning equipment or appliances in your home are properly vented AND inspected annually. These services are best handled by a professional who has the experience and the equipment to test the ventilation and make necessary repairs.
  2. Install CO detectors in your home. Experts recommend a minimum of one CO detector on every “living” floor of your home. In other words, you should have one on every floor that people actively occupy. Experts recommend locating detectors near sleeping areas (within 10 feet) because the gas is undetectable to the senses, and it is possible to sleep through the early warning symptoms of poisoning.
  3. Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. Accidents happen and appliances fail, so knowing and recognizing the early warning symptoms of CO poisoning can save a life. If you suspect you have CO poisoning, leave your home and call 911 immediately. Once your health and safety are secure, contact a professional to inspect the equipment in your home that may be the cause. Do not reenter your home until a qualified inspector declares it is safe.

For more detailed safety tips, click here.

Choosing and Using a CO Detector
All CO detectors are designed to alert you when CO reaches dangerous levels in your home, but some are more sensitive than others. HB McClure recommends a National Safety Institute (NSI) 3000 Professional Grade Low Level Carbon Monoxide Monitor, which is designed to detect levels as low as 5 parts per million (ppm) and alarms as low as 15 ppm. Comparatively, standard UL listed detectors do not alarm until 70 ppm. The NSI 3000’s greater sensitivity protects infants, children, the elderly, and highly sensitive or ill people that may be affected at lower levels than healthy adults.

If you are purchasing a standard carbon monoxide detector, use these guidelines when selecting and operating your device, or contact a trusted mechanical service provider to help you.

  • Select a power supply: battery, plugin/battery backup, and hardwired models.
  • Make sure the unit meets UL Standard 2034.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper placement and operation.
  • Test the unit weekly.
  • Vacuum the unit monthly.
  • Replace the batteries every 6 months for all unit types.
  • Replace the unit very 5 to 7 years.


As with any home safety device or service, if you need some expert advice, call your trusted HB McClure advisor at 717-232-HEAT or click here to schedule an appointment.