Sounding The Alarm On Carbon Monoxide

 In Home Care Tips

Sounding the alarm on carbon monoxide – Mike Holmes

Preventing dangerous gas from entering home a life-saving decision.

Carbon monoxide can enter your home at any time during the year. Our risk of being affected by carbon monoxide poisoning is on the rise during the winter months because many of the systems that we use to heat our homes release carbon monoxide. If these systems were installed incorrectly, or are malfunctioning, that could be released back into our homes.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning — and in Canada, we see at least 50 deaths per year associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.

You’ve heard me mention about the dangers of radon — another gas that you can’t smell or see, yet can cause lung cancer — but don’t forget the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning; they call it the silent killer for a reason.

So how do we keep our homes and our families safe from carbon monoxide poisoning?

Symptoms and causes

Carbon monoxide gets produced when fuels such as propane, gas or wood don’t burn completely. Most of us have at least four carbon monoxide-producing appliances in our homes, like the furnace, water heater, stoves, fireplaces, or portable generators. If these appliances aren’t properly maintained you’re at risk for dangerous level of carbon monoxide to build up, potentially leading to negatively affecting your health.

Elevated levels of carbon monoxide could also be due to blocked venting or inadequate air flow. When the snow falls, make sure that all venting is cleared away. Your fireplace should be inspected yearly, but you also want to be sure that critters haven’t left any nests behind that block key venting mechanisms.

Minor cases of carbon monoxide poisoning feature symptoms similar to that of the flu — with one key difference: no fever. If you feel those symptoms, but they clear up as soon as you’re in the fresh air that’s a potential sign of a carbon monoxide leak in your home.

Did you know our pets can alert us to a carbon monoxide leak? While they don’t have the ability to detect it (it’s odourless, after all) — poisoning tends to affect our four-legged family members first. If your dog or cat starts exhibiting unexplained symptoms like vomiting, is behaving irritably, or refuses to come back indoors could mean your home has sprung a leak.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

Most deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning happen while we’re asleep, so the most important step in combating this is to install a carbon monoxide alarm. When it goes off, treat it like your smoke alarm, evacuate your home immediately and call the fire department. Do not go back into your home until it has been deemed safe.

At minimum, you’ll want a unit installed outside your home’s sleeping area, but I’d install one on every level of the home, just to be safe. These units need to tested monthly, and have their batteries changed often, too. I replace mine twice a year when the clocks change (like I would my smoke alarms). One final piece of advice here: these units don’t last forever. Most units should have a replace-by date on the back; make sure to pay attention to that date and replace accordingly. Typically this will be every seven to 10 years.

An alarm is a requirement if your home has any fuel-burning appliances, an attached garage, or a fireplace. The alarms are your last line of defence because, ideally, you’ll prevent a leak in the first place. You really should have your fuel-burning appliances inspected annually by a professional. That includes your furnace, gas stove, and gas fireplace.

Don’t neglect your garage. Do not let your car idle in the garage — even with the door open it’s a huge safety risk. That goes for your gas-powered tools. They’re for outdoor use only! My garage has a carbon monoxide alarm, and I recommend yours should have one, too.

Finally, with winter weather, you never know when a prolonged power outage will occur. If it does happen, don’t attempt to use your oven to bring some warmth to your home — it could burn inefficiently, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. If you don’t have heat, find a temporary place to stay that does. I always have a standby generator installed on every house I work on. If the power goes out, the standby generator will come on automatically and generates electricity that feeds into your electrical panel. But if you have a portable generator, never bring it indoors. Generators give off carbon monoxide, so having them in a closed room is very dangerous.

Carbon monoxide detectors aren’t just a good idea. In Ontario and for new-builds in Alberta, for instance, they’re the law for any homes that have at least one fuel-burning appliance. Like your smoke alarm, this device could just save your life one day. Don’t take it for granted.

Mike Holmes and his son, Mike Jr. are back! Watch Holmes And Holmes on HGTV Canada. For more information, visit

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