Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

New Requirements for Carbon Monoxide Alarms
New regulations were issued as emergency rules by the state Department of Commerce, Safety and Buildings Division, as required by April 2008 legislation titled "2007 Wisconsin Act 205." Most one and two-family dwellings are not included in the regulations, although installing CO alarms in those homes is a good idea. The residential types included in the new regulations are tourist rooming houses (cabins), bed and breakfast establishments, and any public building used for sleeping or lodging, such as hotels, motels, condominiums, apartment buildings, dormitories, fraternities, sororities, convents, seminaries, jails, prisons, home shelters, and community-based residential facilities. Hospitals and nursing homes are not included. Requirements for commercial - residential buildings existing on October 1, 2008, or receiving plan approval prior to October 1, 2008 include:

  • Installation of carbon monoxide alarms by April 1, 2010.
  • No mandatory type of power sources for the carbon monoxide alarms, thereby allowing batteries, electrical outlet plug-ins, or wiring directly to the building's electrical service.
  • Omission of carbon monoxide alarms is allowed provided there are no attached garages and all of the fuel burning appliances are of sealed combustion type either under warranty or annually inspected for carbon monoxide emissions.

See the Department of Commerce Brochure (PDF) for more information.

You can't see it, taste it, or smell it, but low levels of carbon monoxide can make you sick and high levels can kill. The Stevens Point Fire Department would like to provide the following information to help educate everyone about the risks associated with exposure to carbon monoxide so that you can take steps to keep your family safe.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is colorless, odorless, tasteless and very deadly. It can kill quickly because it can't be seen, tasted or smelled. It is a by- produced resulting from the incomplete combustion of various fuels, including coal, heating oil, wood, charcoal, gasoline, kerosene, propane and natural gas.

What are possible sources of CO?

Dangerous amounts of CO can be caused by an appliance that is poorly installed, poorly maintained or damaged which results in the fuel not being burned properly. Any combustion process can be a source of CO. The leading cause of indoor CO is attributed to poorly maintained furnaces and heaters. Some other sources include gas stoves, hot water heaters, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, dirty or plugged chimneys, gasoline lawnmowers or blowers, pilot lights, car exhaust fumes, charcoal, gas space heaters, tobacco smoke and portable generators.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

Because CO is odorless, colorless and undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without a fever) and can include: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms and can include: mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and, potentially, death. Symptoms vary widely from person to person. CO poisoning may occur sooner in those most susceptible: young children, elderly people, people with lung or heart disease and those who already have elevated CO blood levels, such as smokers. Also, CO poisoning poses special risks to fetuses.

How can I prevent CO positioning?

  • Make certain appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have your heating system professionally inspected and serviced regularly to ensure proper operation.
  • Examine chimneys and vents for blockages, cracks and leaks.
  • Start all gas, diesel or propane-powered equipment outside.
  • Make sure all your fresh air intakes are not blocked or restricted.
  • Be certain all fuel burning appliances and equipment are properly vented to the outdoors.
  • Keep vents and chimneys clear of debris or other blockages.
  • Don't try to heat a room with a gas range, oven or clothes dryer.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows these spaces can trap CO and escalate to lethal levels.
  • Install a UL-approved CO alarm which can provide some added protection. Install detectors on every level of your home, near sleeping areas and in the vicinity of the heating unit. Be sure that the alarm can be heard from every sleeping area. Test CO detectors once a month and replace according to manufacturer's instructions.