Carbon monoxide (CO) is undetectable by human senses and, during the recent ice storm, tragically claimed several lives.
Here’s what you need to know to keep safe inside your car and home:
1. Don’t warm up your vehicle in garage. Move it outside after starting and keep remote starters away from children. Similarly, don’t operate barbecues or gas generators in the garage. Even with garage doors open, CO will seep inside the attached building.
2. If stranded and keeping warm inside a car, make sure exhaust pipe is clear of snow.
3. Use the “test” button to test your CO alarm once a month. CO alarms have a limited service life. Newer units will chirp or flash when replacement is due. Do not use beyond the stated “replace by” date, or 10 years maximum.
4. Never test a CO alarm with car exhaust as this will damage it.
5. CO poisoning causes flu-like symptoms of headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and confusion. If any symptoms are present, evacuate the building and call 911.
The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office offers these tips for power outages:
- Use flashlights instead of candles.
- If using candles, place in a secure holder (or a deep glass jar). Never leave lit candles unattended.
- Ensure electric appliances are switched OFF or unplugged to prevent fire when electricity is restored.
- Propane and charcoal barbecues are for outdoor use only. Don’t bring them inside.
- Electric smoke alarms and CO alarms won’t work during blackouts unless they have battery backups (not all do). Make sure your home has battery-operated smoke and CO alarms.
- Use only portable space heaters designed for indoor use. Provide adequate ventilation (to avoid asphyxia and CO) and refuel outside.
- Portable generators should only be used outdoors and carefully located to ensure that exhaust fumes don’t enter the home.
Note that plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up will only work for about an hour after power is out, whereas a battery-only carbon monoxide alarm will run for a year on a single battery.
However, during an extended power outage in winter, declining indoor temperatures may cause false alarms. In general, don’t place CO alarms in unheated areas (garages, attics), hot or humid environments (kitchens, bathrooms, laundry room), or adjacent a fuel-burning appliance (furnace, fireplace, wood stove).
CO is readily airborne and close proximity to fuel-burning appliances can cause false alerts on start-up. Ideally, CO alarms should be located near each sleeping area. For example, if you have bedrooms both upstairs and in the basement, place at least one CO alarm in each area.
Wheels.ca expert Eric Lai previously evaluated all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms sold in Canada and USA for Consumers’ Digest.
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