Carbon Monoxide Safety

It’s the law

On October 14th, 2014 the Province of Ontario announced that the Ontario Fire Code now makes it mandatory to have Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms in most residential properties. Any residential property with a fuel-fired appliance or attached garage must have an alarm. These must be installed near all sleeping areas in residential homes and in the service rooms, and adjacent sleeping areas in multi-residential units. It also declared the first week of November as Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

Owners of properties with six or less residences have until April 15th, 2015 to comply and those with more than six residential units have until October 15th, 2015 to comply.

Units built in Ontario after 2011 were required to have CO installed when built. 

Ontario Regulation 194/14

Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odourless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

If you suspect carbon monoxide in your home, get out immediately and call 9-1-1.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms (without the fever), food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

 High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim's health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body's ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.

A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time

What do i do if my carbon monoxide alarm activates?

Immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call 911 from the fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.

Why call 911?

OFS personnel will respond with CO detectors and determine if there is a CO source. If CO is detected the gas company may also be contacted to conduct an inspection of appliances. Once the source is identified and solution determined you can be safely permitted back into your residence.

Why is carbon monoxide dangerous?

CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms (without the fever), food poisoning and other illnesses. See Symptoms of CO Poisoning.

Studies have shown that chronic exposure to even low levels of carbon monoxide can have serious health consequences for children, pregnant women, and the elderly, who may be more susceptible to CO poisoning at much lower levels then healthy adults. Carbon Monoxide exposure, whether a small amount over an extended period of time or a large amount over a brief period of time, can have a serious impact on your health.

Conditions that can create a CO hazard include:

  • Fuel-burning appliances, venting systems and chimneys that have not been serviced and maintained regularly by a qualified service technician.
  • A chimney blocked by a squirrel or bird’s nest, snow, ice or other debris.
  • Improper venting of a furnace or cracked furnace heat exchanger.
  • Exhaust fumes seeping into your home from a vehicle running in an attached garage.
  • Improper use of portable heaters.
  • Using fuel-burning appliances designed for outdoor use (barbecues, lanterns, chainsaws, lawnmowers, snow blowers) in an enclosed area such as a garage or workshop.
  • Combustion gases spilling into a home if too much air is being consumed by a fireplace or exhausted by kitchen/bathroom fans in a tightly sealed house.

Carbon monoxide safety tips

  • Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fuelled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, fireplace and any other fuel burning appliance are clear of snow/ice build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Annual inspection and cleaning of  furnaces, chimneys, fireplaces and all other fuel-burning equipment such as gas dryers and stoves
  • Never operate a gasoline-powered engine indoors or in closed space -  Only use outside
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.

Where to install a carbon monoxide alarm?

Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory and take the time to read the manufacturer’s instructions that are enclosed with each detector. 

Carbon monoxide mixes easily with air throughout the home.  Therefore, the suggested location for installation is in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. The units should not be blocked by furniture or window coverings and will work well in either a high or low location; however, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

Your carbon monoxide alarm should be tested regularly to make sure it is operating properly. Keep the unit clean and free of dust dirt and other debris which could affect the sensor’s proper functioning.  The owner’s manual should tell you how to test your alarm.

You should keep common household chemicals and cleaners away from your CO alarms. Low exposure over an extended period of time could damage the sensing device and cause it to malfunction.

Where not to install a carbon monoxide alarm

Do not install a carbon monoxide alarm in a place where the temperature is expected to fall below 4.4 degrees Celsius, such as an unheated garage or storage shed. They should not be placed within five feet of any open flame appliance such as cook tops, fireplaces or furnaces. They should also be kept clear of any direct exhaust from gas engines, vents, flues or chimneys as these will damage the alarm.

Where to buy a carbon monoxide alarm

CO alarms can be purchased at most hardware stores in Canada. Look for a ULC or CSA listed product. Approved devices include battery operated units, electric units that can be plugged into a duplex receptacle, and hard-wired units.

Additional resources

Ontario Fire Marshal’s Website

National Fire Protection Association’s Website