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Winter's Silent Killer. Are You Protected?

Despite the lack of snow and frosty weather, December signals the imminent arrival of Christmas trees, crackling fires, burning candles and over-used extension cords and smoke alarms. This time of the year is also associated with a danger that one must not overlook. Colourless, Odourless and Tasteless, Carbon Monoxide or CO is often known as the “Silent Killer”!

Every year, many Canadians are left dead or hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning in their homes, most of them while sleeping. Many of the hundreds of Canadians hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning are permanently disabled. These disturbing incidents resulting in fatalities serve as poignant reminders of how dangerous this gas can be.

According to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, everyone is at risk- 88% of all homes have something that poses a carbon monoxide threat.

Where does this silent killer come from?

When common household fuels like Natural Gas, Propane, Heating Oil or Wood are incompletely burned, CO is released. The danger is when the gas builds up in poorly ventilated places; basements and furnaces rooms are common suspects. It kills by taking over the blood’s ability to take in oxygen, which prevents the flow of oxygen to the heart, brain and other vital organs, effectively suffocating the person to death.

What are examples of fuel burning devices?

  • Hot water heater

  • Furnace

  • Space heater

  • Fireplace

  • Kitchen stove or grill

  • Gas or charcoal barbeque

  • Automobile

What are the common symptoms?

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Impairment of vision or hearing

  • Chest pains

  • Poor thinking and hallucinations

Early symptoms of CO poisoning such as headaches, nausea and fatigue are often mistaken for the flu and the gas goes undetected in the home. Prolonged exposure to CO can lead to unconscious, brain damage and death. If symptoms improve when away from the home for a period of time, this is usually a very good indication that there is a CO leak in the house.

What are some safety measure that must I take to protect myself and my family?

  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm on each level of the home, in or near the sleeping areas of the home and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction.

  • Verify that your carbon monoxide alarm has been certified to the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) CAN/CGA 6.19 standard or the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 2034 standard.

  • Schedule regular in-home inspections and tune-ups. Be sure to have your fuel-burning appliances, chimneys, vents and fireplaces inspected and tuned up by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. That means venting as well to ensure there is no blockage (due to bird’s nest, twigs or old mortar), corrosion or holes.

  • Make sure flues are open when fireplaces are in use.

  • Never use gas kitchen stove tops or ovens to heat your home. Keep gas appliances properly adjusted and serviced.

  • Only use space heaters in well-ventilated areas and with the proper fuel. Don’t go to sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.

  • Regularly clean the clothes dryer ductwork and outside vent cover for blockages such as lint, snow, or overgrown outdoor plants.

  • Never use a generator indoor.

  • Don’t idle your car in the garage. Carbon monoxide fumes can build up quickly in the garage and make their way into the home… even if the garage door is open. Always open the garage doors before you start your vehicle. Be very cautious with vehicles parked in the garage which have a remote starter.

  • Verify that your garage man-door is properly sealed and is equipped with a self-closing device.

Is CO alarm required by law in Ontario?

Yes, the CO alarm requirements came into force on October 15, 2014.

"Buildings that contain no more than six suites of residential occupancy are required to comply with the installation and replacement requirements within 6 months of the in-force date (April 15, 2015, at the latest).

Buildings that contain more than six suites of residential occupancy are required to comply with the installation and replacement requirements within 12 months of the in-force date (October 15, 2015, at the latest)."

Because of CO’s stealthy nature and confusing symptoms, the best safety measure is to install detectors throughout your home. Carbon monoxide alarm is required near all sleeping areas in residential homes and in service rooms. For more information with regards to the “Installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms, see section 2.16 of the Ontario Regulation 194/14: Fire Code

If you have any questions regarding CO safety, you may contact us or your local fire department.

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