Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Poisoning

CARBON MONOXIDE IS KNOWN AS "THE SILENT KILLER.” You cannot see it, smell it or taste it. Carbon Monoxide claims the lives of nearly 300 people in their homes each year according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that is produced by fuel-burning heating equipment, such as furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, and kerosene heaters. Follow these guidelines to help keep your family safer.

Washington State Carbon Monoxide Alarm Law

Washington State law (RCW 19.27.530) requires carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in new and existing single-family residences, apartments, condominiums, hotels and motels, with some exceptions. Owner-occupied single-family residences, legally occupied before July 26, 2009, are not required to have carbon monoxide alarms until they are sold.

CO Alarm Installation Requirements

  1. Alarms must be located outside of each separate sleeping area, in the immediate vicinity of the bedroom and on each level of the residence.
  2. Single station carbon monoxide alarms must be listed as complying with UL 2034, and installed in accordance with the code and the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Combined CO and smoke alarms are permitted.

For more information on the carbon monoxide alarm requirements, contact your local building code official or see the State Building Code Council's Carbon Monoxide Alarm page.

Understand the Risk, Recognize the Symptoms

What are some common sources of carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is produced by incomplete combustion from cars and trucks, small gasoline power equipment like weed trimmers and chain saws, boat engines, gas and camp stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges, ovens, or furnaces. Tobacco smoke is a significant source of carbon monoxide in homes with smokers.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Common initial symptoms are headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, confusion, and nausea. Low-level carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are like other illnesses, such as the flu. The following could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Symptoms go away when you leave your home and come back when you return.
  • Everyone in the home has similar symptoms at the same time.

Breathing in high levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death. People who are sleeping can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever knowing they are being exposed to the gas.

Who is at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning?

All people and animals are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Certain groups, such as unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems, are more easily affected by carbon monoxide poisoning.

What should be done if you suspect someone has carbon monoxide poisoning?

  • Immediately go outside to get fresh air. Call 911.
  • If someone is unconscious and cannot leave, open windows and doors to bring in fresh air. Turn off the source of carbon monoxide. Go outside for fresh air. Call 911.
  • After calling 911, do a head count to check that all people are accounted for. Don't reenter the building until emergency responders have given you permission. You could lose consciousness and die if you go back in without knowing if it's safe.
  • If the source of the carbon monoxide is a malfunctioning appliance, don't use that appliance until it has been fixed by a trained professional.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Precautions

Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up your home's central heating system and repair leaks or other problems. Fireplaces and woodstoves should also be inspected each year and cleaned or repaired as needed.

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted and serviced.
  • Never use an oven or range to heat your home.
  • Never use a gas or charcoal grill inside your home or in a closed garage.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.
  • Have a professional chimney sweep clean and inspect chimneys annually.
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