Carbon monoxide has been dubbed the “silent killer” due to the danger posed to
those unknowingly breathing it. According to The National Safety Council, 200-300
unintentional-injury deaths a year are due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The State of
Minnesota 2006 legislative session passed a new carbon monoxide law requiring CO
alarms in all single family homes and multifamily apartment units. The law is effective
January 1st, 2007 for all newly constructed single family homes and August 1st, 2008 for
all existing single family homes. The operational CO alarm shall be installed within ten
(10) feet of each room lawfully used for sleeping purposes. If bedrooms are located on
separate floors, additional CO alarms would be necessary within ten (10) feet of these
CO is the leading cause of poisoning that can cause death. CO is an odorless,
colorless and tasteless gas. Your senses can’t detect its presence. It is produced by
anything in your home that burns fuel inefficiently. It has many sources, which might
include: gas dryer, furnace, stove/burner, water heater, fireplace, automobile fumes and
portable heaters. Smoking is another common source of CO that impacts indoor air
Carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from going to the red blood cells of the body.
Because the brain and heart are very sensitive to a lack of oxygen, symptoms that might
be experienced are: headache, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, confusion and drowsiness. At
higher levels it can result in unconsciousness or death. A telltale sign might be that
multiple people in the same home complaining of these symptoms. People most
vulnerable to the effects of CO include pregnant women, the elderly, small children,
people with lung or heart problems or others with chronic health conditions, and people
engaging in strenuous physical activity.
A CO alarm can be purchased at most hardware and department stores. The fire
department recommends one with an audible alarm and digital readout that is UL listed.
CO is a gas that is the same density as air, so it does not matter if you put the detector
high or low. Do not place it near areas that affect a true reading, such as the furnace,
kitchen, doors to outside, and windows. Place it within ten (10) feet of your bedrooms
and is in a “high traffic” area (for frequents checks). All homes should have a CO alarm
and smoke alarms. A smoke alarm does not replace the need for a CO alarm.
CO alarms are designed to go off before an average healthy adult has onset of
symptoms. The detector should read “0”. If the number rises, you can do something
about it before it goes to an alarm or symptom stage. If you do not have symptoms of CO
poisoning, but your alarm is going off, turn off all possible sources of carbon monoxide,
open all your windows and doors and call your gas company. If you do have symptoms
and the alarm is going off; evacuate the home and call 911. This is a medical emergency!
Protect those in your home from CO poisoning by making sure your heating
system and all fuel-burning appliances are adequately vented and maintained. Don’t use
gasoline engines or burn charcoal in enclosed spaces. Have your furnace and water heater
checked once a year by a qualified technician. Your safety begins with prevention.
Here is a great quiz to test your knowledge on CO.
1. What is the most common cause of odorless carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in a home?
2. Where do I put my CO alarm in my home?
3. What type of alarm is best?
4. When do I need to replace the alarm?
5. What do I do if the alarm goes off, loud and continuous?
6. What are the symptoms of CO poisoning and how do I tell the difference between this and the
7. Who is at greater risk for CO poisoning?
ANSWERS: 1) Fuel burning appliances working improperly, like the furnace and water heater (have them checked annually) 2)
Does not matter, high or low. It must be away from fresh air and areas of combustion (furnace and fuel‐burning appliances)
3) The fire department finds fewer alarm issues with digital CO alarms that are only measuring CO 4) 5‐7 years, they are dated
on the back side of the alarm or per manufacturer’s instructions 5) Get out and call 911 6) Flu‐like symptoms; headache,
dizziness, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting (poisoning can occur without symptoms). If you go outside and the symptoms go
away 7) Those with respiratory conditions (such as asthma and emphysema), heart problems, anemia, those who does
strenuous physical activity and elderly, children and unborn babies
MN law states all homes need to have CO alarms. For more information on CO and other home
hazards: call The Minnesota Department of Health‐Indoor Air Quality Unit @ 1‐800‐798‐9050 or sign
up for a free home safety survey for a personal, confidential look at your home by the fire department
@ 763‐767‐4003 for an appointment.