Carbon Monoxide


  • Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce CO.


  • Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:
    • Headache
    • Fatigue
    • Shortness of breath
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
  • High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:
    • Mental confusion
    • Vomiting
    • Loss of muscular coordination
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Ultimately death
  • Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.


  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.


  • Proper placement of a carbon monoxide (CO) detector is important. If you are installing only one carbon monoxide detector, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends it be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you if you are asleep. For better protection against carbon monoxide poisoning, place additional detectors on every level and in every bedroom of a home.
  • Homeowners should remember not to install carbon monoxide detectors directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up. A detector should not be placed within fifteen feet of heating or cooking appliances or in or near very humid areas such as bathrooms.
  • When considering where to place a carbon monoxide detector, keep in mind that although carbon monoxide is roughly the same weight as air (carbon monoxide’s specific gravity is 0.9657, as stated by the EPA; the National Resource Council lists the specific gravity of air as one), it may be contained in warm air coming from combustion appliances such as home heating equipment. If this is the case, carbon monoxide will rise with the warmer air.