Do I Need a Carbon Monoxide Detector?


During the winter, the risk for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is the greatest. Homeowners are starting to turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warming cars in their garages without ventilation. CO can build up in your home when gas appliances are not properly vented or are being used incorrectly. It is important to note that ventilation does not guarantee safety.

Called the “silent killer”, carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless poisonous gas. It can make your family sick or even turn deadly. Installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home is a safety precaution. These detectors alert you when there are high levels of CO concentration in your home.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

A battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide detector is recommended to be installed in the hallway near each sleeping area in your home. Even better, install one on every level of your home. Be sure to check the batteries when you change your clocks in the spring and fall (same with smoke detectors) and replace the detector every five years. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing your CO detector monthly.

Other ways to prevent CO poisoning are:

  • Never use a gas oven or range-top to heat your home.
  • Have your furnace, water heater, and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced every year by a professional.
  • Never use a portable generator in a garage or other enclosed area or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
  • Keep chimneys, flues and vents free from snow, ice or debris.
  • Have your chimney checked annually. Make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire has been extinguished.
  • Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open. Always open the detached garage door to let in fresh air when you warm your car inside a garage.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The symptoms of CO poisoning can vary depending on the level of carbon monoxide and duration of exposure. Mild symptoms are sometimes mistaken for the flu, which is why having a detector in your home is recommended.

Mild symptoms of CO poisoning include:

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

High-levels of CO poisoning result in mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and death.

If you suspect you or a family member shows physical symptoms of CO poisoning, act immediately. Evacuate your home for fresh air and call 911 or your local fire department. Do not reenter your home until you have been given permission from emergency personnel.

For more information about carbon monoxide safety, please visit:

National Safety Council

Centers for Disease Control

U.S. Fire Administration