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carbon monoxide: the silent killer

Ever wonder why our charcoal grills must only be used outside or why we shouldn't use the oven to heat our homes? It's because of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Known as the "silent killer," this odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas builds up when there's not enough fresh air circulating.

The culprit? Several sources found in our homes and garages could be suspect: gas-fired appliances, vents, furnaces, fireplaces, chimneys, and cars.

Here are some facts and tips from the U.S. Fire Administration to help protect you and your loved ones from CO poisoning.

Every home needs a CO alarm

The first line of action is to install and routinely test your CO alarm system — the only way to detect this toxic gas. It's a good idea to place a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home and especially near the bedrooms — close enough to hear it when the bedroom doors are closed.

There may be requirements according to where you live. Your local fire department is a good source of information for CO alarm laws.

Who's at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning?

Everyone (including our pets) is at risk. However, young children, older folks, and those with heart or lung problems are particularly vulnerable.

What are the symptoms?

Low levels can cause flu-like symptoms, such as nausea and a headache, as well as shortness of breath. Moderate levels can cause dizziness and light-headedness. High levels of CO can be fatal within minutes of exposure.

CO can be present even if you're not experiencing any symptoms. So when you hear the alarm, your best bet is to take action regardless of how everyone in your household feels.

What to do if you suspect CO poisoning

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and people/pets aren't feeling well, it's best to evacuate your home (leaving the door open for ventilation) and contact the fire department immediately.

Even if you and your family are symptom-free, contact the fire department anyway to be safe. Also, before evacuating, do your best to turn off appliances and open windows to ventilate your home.

Smart preventative measures

  • Install carbon monoxide alarms and test them regularly
  • Have a qualified professional check all fuel-burning appliances, furnaces, vents, and chimney systems at least once a year
  • Get the heating and cooking systems and sealed spaces between the garage and the house checked if you're buying an existing home
  • Don't keep your car running in the garage — even if the garage doors are open

For more information on safeguarding your home, check out our insight on home fire safety.

As you consider the safety of your home, you may want to shop for a reliable homeowners insurance policy. You can get a free homeowners or condo insurance quote through Esurance anytime.