How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning »Play Video
Carbon monoxide (CO) kills hundreds of people in this country each year and makes thousands of others sick. This poisonous gas is created anytime you burn any fuel - wood, gas, oil, kerosene, or charcoal.

All of these devices create carbon monoxide: electric generators, barbecue grills, fireplaces, wood stoves, furnaces, hot water heaters, and propane space heaters.

A car running in an attached garage is another risk factor. The CO gas coming out the tail pipe can get into the home or apartment and cause some serious health problems and possibly death.

Sometimes human error causes the problem. In many other cases, a faulty appliance is to blame. The warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are easy to miss.

"You get flu-like symptoms," explains John Drengenberg Consumer Affairs Manager with Underwriters Labs. "You get the headache and the nausea and the drowsiness and you assume you should just rest and take it easy for a day or two." If the problem continues, Drengenberg says, "you could go into a coma and die."

That's why every home needs at least one working carbon monoxide detector. Like a smoke alarm, it can warn you of the hidden danger before it's too late.

There are lots of models to choose from. You can get a good one for around $50 or less. Dr. Neil Hampson, an expert on carbon monoxide poisoning at Virginia Mason Medical Center, likes the Kiddie Nighthawk (model KN-COPP-3). It plugs into the wall, has a digital readout, a battery backup, and it's UL listed.

Something to keep in mind, whatever model get, it will need to be replaced every so often, because the sensor can wear out. UL's John Dregenberg says every five to eight years is a good rule of thumb.


Many victims of carbon monoxide poisoning are immigrants, who speak and read little English - so they don't understand the danger. To help those who have limited English, check the King County Health Department's Web site. You'll find safety information in various languages, including: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Somali, Russian, and Spanish

Obviously many people who need this info are without power. So if you know someone who speaks one of these languages and needs this information, please forward the link or print out the material and give it to them. You may save a life.

Top-Rated Models

When CO monitors first came out, they tended to give off a lot of false alarms. John Drengenberg at UL tells me they have changed their tests for carbon dioxide monitors and this is no longer a problem.

Consumer Reports tested various models for its September 2005 issue and recommend these three stand-alone alarms: American Sensors AC Digital & Battery Backup CO920, Kidde Nighthawk KN-COPP-B (a CR BEST BUY), and Kidde Nighthawk Smoke & CO Combo KN-COSM-B.

The editors said all of these alarms sounded within 10 minutes for high levels of carbon monoxide and 30 minutes for lower levels.

For More Information:

CDC: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

UL: Carbon Monoxide Alarms

CPSC: Portable Generator Hazards

EPA: Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

Five Things to Know about Carbon Monoxide