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What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas which is very toxic. When breathed, it can injure or kill.

A natural gas furnace, boiler or water heater that is properly installed and regularly maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions should not release carbon monoxide, or CO, into the home.

But to operate safely and efficiently, any fuel burning appliance or equipment must have an adequate supply of air. It must also have proper and effective venting to carry the exhaust gases outdoors.

If anything interferes with the air supply or venting, exhaust gases could enter the living. Prolonged use of exhaust fans can remove substantial quantity of household air. This could result in potentially unsafe CO levels in the home.

Carbon Monoxide Symptoms

Depending on the exposure levels, you could experience any of the following systems if you have inhaled carbon monoxide:

  • Slight headache or shortage of breath during moderate physical activity;
  • Sever headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, weakness, vision and hearing impairment, collapse or fainting during exertion, loss of muscle control, drowsiness;
  • Unconsciousness, brain damage, or death.

If an occupant of your household is affected, or if the symptoms lessen or disappear when you leave the house, you should suspect the presence of carbon monoxide and take immediate action by having your home checked by a qualified agency.

Be aware that the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the common flu. As a result, many cases are left unreported and untreated during the flu season.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide

  • Stuffy, stale or smelly air
  • The pilot light of a furnace or other gas-fired equipment keeps going out
  • A yellow burner flame, instead of the normal clear, blue flame (this does not apply to gas fireplaces)
  • A carbon monoxide detector sounds the alarm\
  • Excessive moisture on windows and walls
  • Chalky, white powder forming on the chimney or venting.

If you suspect problems, make your first call the right one:

  • Ensure all people and pets leave the home
  • Get immediate medical attention
  • Call 911 or your local fire department, fuel supplier, a licensed heating contractor, or your gas company for an inspection.

CO detectors are a good second line of defense but they are not a substitute for care and maintenance of the natural gas furnace or boiler, venting and chimney.

If you decide to buy a CO detector, choose one that is UL listed and has a reset button. Underwriters Laboratories recommends that consumers look for the UL mark on the product itself.

If you have a carbon monoxide detector and the alarms sounds and there are no medical symptoms, open all doors and windows, and then call for an inspection.

Source: Home Safe Home; Canadian Gas Association