A Carbon Monoxide
Safety Guide.

It was a
typical post-work evening.

Aaron arrived home and started changing out of his office clothes. By the time he was finished he had a headache and felt depleted of energy. He didn’t think much about it and assumed he could sit it off watching television. Within an hour he became more ill. He decided he would sleep it off.

Aaron headed towards his bedroom through the kitchen. He started to feel dizzy. He collapsed. “I did a slow fall trying to catch myself. It was like a bad dream where your muscles kind of go weak and you can't do anything.” His heart was racing “a million miles an hour,” and his head was throbbing. He thought he was having a heart attack.

He passed out on the kitchen floor. After some time, Aaron gathered himself and got up. He took aspirin—a suggested quick-response that’s advised for people who think they’re having a heart attack. Aaron is young and active, so he wasn’t sure if this was an actual incident. He proceeded with the plan to sleep it off. This might have been the worst idea, because carbon monoxide is a night time killer.

is susceptible to
CO poisoning.

Highest risk individuals:

  • Infants
  • The elderly
  • Those suffering from chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems.

The CDC reports that over 400 Americans each year die from unintentional CO poisoning.

Over 20,000 people visit the emergency room and over 4,000 have to be hospitalized.


  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Upset Stomach
  • Vomitting
  • Chest Pain
  • Confusion
  • Loss of Coordination
Aaron was showing clear signs of poisoning. He was dizzy, nauseated, confused, and had a severe headache. These are tell-tale symptoms that are often described as “flu-like.”

Too much CO forces victims to pass out—or worse—pass away. Those who are intoxicated or asleep can die from CO without ever realizing symptoms. Exposure can lead to permanent neurological damage. Be wary if you are experiencing any of these symptoms inside of your home.

Severity of these symptoms depend on the duration and level of exposure. Mild symptoms might be mistaken for the flu, common cold, or others.

CO inhibits the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. If you are exhibiting symptoms inside of the home that aren’t present in fresh air, you know there is a leak.

What was the cause?

Aaron’s incident occurred on the first day the heater was used in the fall. A repairman that had recently visited the home for an annual checkup had forgotten to place the cover back on the heater. Without the cover carbon monoxide began to leak into the home. Most systems won’t even run without it, but Aaron’s was so old that it didn’t have the safety feature. This simple mistake could have taken his life.

Fortunately for Aaron, the weather that day was odd. The temperature was colder during the afternoon than it was at night. Since the heater was on all day, the leaked CO built up and he felt symptoms as soon as he got home from work. The temperature warmed up at night, the heater went down, and a continued leak was prevented. That saved Aaron and his roommate from death.

other causes

A misplaced cover isn’t the only way CO can leak into a home. It is produced by fumes any time fuel is burned. Incomplete combustion is what produces CO, so it’s present anywhere there is a fire, including engines, grills, furnaces, and fireplaces.

Equipment Failure and Misrepair

Incidents happen when apparatuses are installed wrong or working improperly. Anything from gas range stoves, clothes dryers, water heaters, generators or portable devices, and wood burning stoves are at risk.

Winter Heater and Appliance Use

Winter is one of the likeliest times for an incident due to excess heater usage or a power outage that leads people to using devices in the home. (Storms or any other power outage scenario are just as dangerous.)

a vehicle Running in the garage

Vehicles in garages, or working improperly are hazards as well. Never leave a vehicle running in the garage, even if the door is open, and maintain vehicles and inspection so carbon monoxide can’t leak into your cabin.

How is this prevented?

  • Don’t use devices that operate via propane, gas, fuel, fire, et cetera in your home.
  • Don’t leave a vehicle running in the garage—even if the door is open. Maintain vehicles and inspection so CO can’t leak into a vehicle cabin.
  • Never use portable chemical heaters or generators indoors.
  • Don’t burn or use any gas or charcoal product indoors.
  • Service coal burning devices by qualified technicians every year.

  • Clean chimneys once a year.
  • Place alarms in every level and sleeping zones.
  • Place alarm 15 feet from fuel-burning appliances.
  • Test once a week by pressing the test/reset button.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home and get battery backup options. Check and replace the battery twice per year. Replace the detector every five years.

event occurs

  • call 911

  • get to a neighbor's house

  • get outside to fresh air

Aaron's narrow escape

The next morning Aaron was still feeling ill. He called his mom to let her know of the situation, and told his roommate what was happening. “I’m not feeling good either,” his roommate responded. Whenever he got home he felt fatigued and hit his head on the door before passing out himself. “Is that normal for you, because it isn’t for me,” Aaron asked. That’s when it finally clicked that it could be CO.

Both were virtually unaware of how deadly, quick, and unseen (without warning) CO poisoning could be. They opened all their doors and windows and called for someone to inspect the home. They felt immediately better after going outside.

The situation wasn’t without its lesson. The roommates bought a detector that night. “That was just stupid,” Aaron says. “Especially if you take into account how little it costs to have and for what it can protect against. It’s one thing to look after yourself, but if you have a whole family there that can be completely tragic.”

He encourages people to be cautious and aware. Simple things can lead to incidents, like a new roof being installed and a repairman knocking over a pipe. “They aren’t just saying these things save lives, they do.”

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