Carbon monoxide safety

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that you can’t see or smell, which can be harmful if you are exposed to it. It's produced when fuels are burned incompletely, including natural gas, propane, wood, tobacco and gasoline. The good news is that you can prevent CO from becoming a problem and install carbon monoxide alarms to warn you if it’s present.

    Appliance safety and maintenance

    Maintaining natural gas appliances with annual servicing is one of the best ways to protect against carbon monoxide exposure in your home or building. Here are some tips: 

    • Have natural gas appliances installed and inspected regularly by a Technical Safety BC licensed gas contractor. Find a licensed contractor in your area using our online directory.
    • Annual appliance maintenance should also include checking pipes, vents and ducts to make sure they’re not disconnected, blocked or corroded.
    • Make sure the gas contractor employs certified gas fitters (ask to see the gas fitter’s certification) and ask if the gas fitter knows how to check heat exchangers – companies that only clean furnaces and ducting may not be qualified to do this kind of inspection. 
    • Always keep furnace fan compartment doors and/or the filter access panel in place.
    • If you’re planning energy-conservation upgrades to your home or building such as caulking, draftproofing or insulation or adding high-volume exhaust fans, talk to your licensed gas contractor to ensure gas appliances and heating systems will have adequate ventilation.

    Preventing carbon monoxide problems

    Along with regularly maintaining gas appliances, installing carbon monoxide detectors and ensuring proper ventilation when burning fuels, here are some tips to help reduce your risk of carbon monoxide exposure:

    • Never use equipment designed for outdoor use, such as barbecues, camp stoves, propane lanterns, generators or lawnmowers, in any enclosed space.
    • Remove vehicles and gas-powered equipment from the garage immediately after starting the engine.
    • When using a wood-burning fireplace, open the damper and partially open a window or door at the level of the fireplace. Close the damper only after the fire is completely out and ashes have cooled.
    • When buying equipment, look for the seal of an approved certification agency such as the Canadian Gas Association or the Canadian Standards Association, and make sure to use it as intended.

    Don’t ignore the signs of carbon monoxide

    Breathing in carbon monoxide depletes the oxygen in your blood. Being exposed to carbon monoxide for too long could lead to unconsciousness, brain damage and death. Symptoms to watch for include:

    • chronic headaches
    • nausea
    • drowsiness
    • impaired judgment
    • loss of coordination

    If you feel better after leaving the house or building, or other occupants report the same symptoms, it could be a sign of exposure to carbon monoxide.

    For more details about the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, visit Technical Safety BC and the Community for Preventable Injuries.

    What to do in an emergency

    If your carbon monoxide detector indicates high CO levels in your home or building, or you suspect carbon monoxide exposure:

    1. Get outside to fresh air immediately, and open doors and windows on your way out. Get other people and pets out of the building, too.
    2. Seek emergency medical attention for symptoms of CO poisoning.
    3. Call 911 or the FortisBC Emergency Line at 1-800-663-9911 (24 hours), and don’t go back in the building until it’s safe.
    4. After returning to the building, have a licensed gas contractor inspect your gas appliances.

    Buying and installing carbon monoxide alarms

    Carbon monoxide alarms, in addition to regular appliance maintenance and functioning smoke alarms, can warn you if CO is present and provide extra protection for your home and family.

    What to look for on the package:

    • Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved models should have the CSA logo (blue flame) and current standard number (CSA 6.19-17) on the label. 
    • The replacement date and warranty period should be clearly listed. 

    Key features

    • battery operated (look for sealed lithium batteries) OR 
      110-volt plug-in with battery backup (note: battery backup may only operate for a few hours after the power fails)
    • display that shows the peak level and hours since peak (these features show you the highest level of carbon monoxide reached and how long ago the reading occurred)

    How to install carbon monoxide alarms

    • Install carbon monoxide alarms in bedrooms or the hallway near sleeping areas on each level of your home. 
    • If your CO alarm is battery operated, check batteries at least twice a year.

    Find a licensed natural gas contractor

    Use our online directory to find approved natural gas contractors in your community. When selecting a contractor, make sure personnel are certified gas fitters and experienced at inspecting all types of gas appliances for safe operation. Get tips for hiring a contractor.