10 Ways to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy Pixabay

As I sit here writing this, Hurricane Elsa is predicted to make landfall in Florida today.  Having weathered my share of hurricanes over the years, all I can say is that while the threat of wind and water causes many homeowners to lose sleep at night during Hurricane Season, there’s one peril that all too many ignore: CO poisoning.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can incapacitate and kill in minutes.  Before you start firing up that portable generator or breaking out the camp stove, there are a few things you need to know. 

1.      Who turned out the lights? – When hurricanes hit, the first thing they do is knock out power to entire neighborhoods.  While in decades gone by, this used to be an inconvenience that had those affected lighting candles and opening windows, since the advent of portable generators, many homeowners keep gas-powered units in their garage that they can use to power part or all of their home any time the lights go out for an extended period of time.  These units are also one of the reasons that emergency room visits skyrocket during and after a hurricane passes by.  That’s because some owners of portable generators set them up too close to their homes which can allow CO to waft into a structure.  The EPA suggests that any gas-powered generator be kept a minimum of 20-feet from any doors, windows or vents.

2.      Can a camp stove kill? – Sure it can if you fire it up in your garage.  Even with the garage doors open, cooking with a camp stove releases carbon monoxide that will drift upward.  The longer the cooker is operating, the more CO it gives off.  Not only can a camp stove or other gas-powered device result in the operator being overcome by noxious fumes in a few minutes, but the exhaust can work its way inside a home to harm those living there.  Just as you’d never fire up your barbecue inside your home, you should take the same precautions when using a camp stove.

3.      Do you know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning? – Just as in the case of heat stress and heat stroke, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are all too easy to ignore or mistake for something else.  The onset is usually that of a headache or chronic fatigue.  As the CO molecules begin replacing the oxygen in the bloodstream, the brain begins to get oxygen-starved.  If left unchecked, as the ration of carbon monoxide in the body increases, it can lead to nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness.  Since these symptoms can mimic intoxication or food poisoning, it’s all too easy to shrug them off.  To do that in an area that harbors CO can be a fatal mistake, since the final symptoms can include vomiting, mental confusion and unconsciousness.

Image courtesy Pixabay

4.      Do you know what to do if someone you know exhibits symptoms of CO poisoning? -  If you suspect CO poisoning, it’s vital to get those affected out of the area where the gas is present.  While fresh air can help revive those who have absorbed carbon monoxide into their system, they should still be rushed to the nearest emergency care facility where they can be put on oxygen.  Pure oxygen is much better than fresh air when it comes to reducing the buildup of CO in the bloodstream.

5.      Who is most at risk for CO poisoning? -  While anyone can be overcome by carbon monoxide, those most at risk are the very old, the very young, and anyone who has chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems.  People who live or work at high altitude can also be more quickly overcome by CO poisoning since the air at altitude contains less oxygen molecules.  Even certain occupations are more susceptible to CO toxicity if the job entails being in confined areas where their emission is prevalent.  This includes miners, welders, garage mechanics, forklift operators, firefighters, tollbooth attendants, and taxi drivers.

6.      What else can produce carbon monoxide? – Any device that relies on internal combustion produces carbon monoxide.  Gas-powered cars, motorcycles, chainsaws, weedwhackers, and lawnmowers produce CO.  So too do gas grills and portable gas heaters.  In short, if the device relies on combustion to power it, it produces carbon monoxide.

7.      Are there any gas appliances in your home? – Believe it or not, if your home has a gas stove, gas heat or a gas-fired hot water heater, all these devices produce carbon monoxide.  The only thing that keeps them from poisoning you and your family are the vents that carry the combustion byproducts outside.  Should any of these vents become clogged, the results could be catastrophic since the CO would have nowhere else to go except inside your home.

Image courtesy Pixabay

8.      Does your home have a carbon monoxide alarm? -  While nearly every home has a smoke detector, it’s shocking how few have carbon monoxide detectors.  Even many people who heat their homes and/or cook with gas don’t have a carbon monoxide detector installed in their homes.  Since these only cost between $20-$30, doesn’t it make sense to acquire one to protect your family?

9.      How many people are harmed by carbon monoxide poisoning?   The incidence of CO poisoning in the US are sobering.  More than 20,000 people are treated for CO toxicity every year.  Of those, around 4,000 require hospitalization and more than 400 fatalities are reported.  This doesn’t include cases that are misdiagnosed as some other malady, nor does it take into account thousands of cases that are treated at home each and every year without a trip to the doctor.

10.  What can you do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning? – If you use gas to cook with and/or heat your home, have your home inspected once a year for leaks and blockages.  If you own gas-powered devices, make sure you never start them inside your garage and any time you leave them running, ensure they are at least 20-feet from doors, windows and vents.  Never let your vehicle idle in the garage, even with the door open.  If you think carbon monoxide toxicity has affected you or a loved one, get them to an ER fast and never try to find the source it if isn’t obvious.  Let the professionals handle that.  Last but not least, purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on boat insurance, go to her site.


  1. It's hurricane season again. Don't wait until the last second to prepare.

  2. WHo know that this was such a big problem. - Thanks 'D


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