Keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning this winter

by Kate Evans

Very cold weather presses many households to boost their heating output, to keep rooms comfortable and make sure plumbing doesn’t freeze. Heating pressure means the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is much greater in the wintertime due to the use of gas-powered furnaces and sometimes alternative heat and power sources used during power outages.

Carbon monoxide poisoning causes headaches, nausea, dizziness and confusion. High levels can cause people to lose consciousness, making them unable to seek fresh air to recover.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be avoided by following basic safety tips.

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas that can quickly and silently kill if it builds up inside your home or business. Carbon monoxide can’t be seen, smelled or heard.

High levels of carbon monoxide  prevent oxygen from getting to body organs and tissues and cause unconsciousness and death.

Carbon monoxide can build up indoors from gas or oil-burning furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, portable generators, gas ranges, kerosene heaters and lanterns, small gasoline engines, propane stoves or charcoal grills.

Starting vehicles, ATVs or small engines in an attached garage can produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, even if the garage door is open.

CO statistics

Every year around 420 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning across the United States and approximately 100,000 people are seen in the emergency room for unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information. Carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely preventable, CDC officials say.

Families have died from   accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty furnaces and from using a generator inside their home or trailer for heating and power, which should never be done.

A Great Cacapon family of three and their four dogs nearly died in June 2019 from carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas generator being used inside their basement for electricity. Sheriff’s deputies found them after a failed 911 call and were able to vent the home enough to save their lives.


The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, confusion and weakness. Carbon monoxide poisoning can seem flu-like and is difficult to diagnose unless suspected.

When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it replaces the oxygen in the blood. People that are sleeping or that have been drinking alcohol can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before they ever have symptoms.

While everyone is at risk, infants, pregnant women, unborn babies and people with emphysema, asthma, anemia and chronic heart disease are more susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, said information from the CDC and the National Fire Protection Association.

Prevention tips

Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside your home, basement, garage or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open.

Never run a generator, motor vehicle or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.

Look for portable generators that shut off automatically when high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) are present. Some models with CO shut-off also have reduced emissions, according to the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Never use a gas range or oven for heating inside your home, cabin or camper.

Never use a charcoal grill, a barbecue grill, hibachi, lantern,  or a portable camping gas stove  inside a home, tent, or camper.

Never use an unvented gas or kerosene heater indoors.

Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year.  Chimneys can be blocked by debris and cause carbon monoxide build-up in the home.  Keep vents and flues free of debris as they can block ventilation.

Have heating systems, water heaters and other gas, oil or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

Vent all gas appliances so carbon monoxide doesn’t build up in your home, cabin or camper.

Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum or other material.

Back your vehicle or equipment out of the garage and let it warm up outside. Never leave a vehicle running inside a house garage with the garage door shut.

Have a mechanic check your vehicle’s exhaust system every year for leaks that could cause a build-up of carbon monoxide inside your car.

Carbon monoxide detectors

CDC, health department and fire department officials advise installing at least one battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector in a central location outside of sleeping areas in your home for safety on each floor level.  Link all of your carbon monoxide detectors together in series so if one sounds, they all sound.

Check or replace the carbon monoxide detector batteries every six months when you change your clocks each spring and fall at time change.  Also change the batteries for your smoke detectors at the same time.

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, call 911 and evacuate your home immediately and go to a fresh air location outdoors.

Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.  Call 911 or your health care provider immediately.