With cold weather upon us, many of us have turned on the heating at home. Many newcomers, for whom home heating is a new concept, may not be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide.
Fire departments and safety experts are stressing the importance of Ontario’s recent law mandating the installation of carbon monoxide alarms.
An alarm is now required in homes of any age that have an attached garage or a furnace, fireplace, appliance or other device that burns natural gas, oil, wood, propane, or other fossil fuel.
The law is the result of a tragic carbon monoxide accident that occurred just before Christmas 2008.
John Gignac, a veteran Brantford firefighter, lost his niece Laurie Hawkins, her husband, and their two children.
A clogged vent connected to Hawkins’ gas fireplace caused carbon monoxide to seep back into their home. The family didn’t have a CO alarm, so they had no idea they were in danger.
The story made national headlines and brought attention to the growing number of carbon monoxide poisonings happening in Canadian homes.
Gignac, who created and is executive director of the family educational foundation, says that in addition to installing and maintaining CO alarms, recognizing they don’t last forever is equally important.
“For families that already have CO alarms installed, it is essential to check their age because if they were made before 2009, they must be replaced,” he says.
“That goes for hardwired alarms, too. Sensors can become dirty and obstructed. Plus, technology has made significant advances. Today you can even buy ‘worry-free’ alarms that have sealed lithium batteries that last 10 years from activation and never need to be changed.”
Carbon monoxide can be emitted when fuels are burned for energy or heat.
According to the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education, sources of carbon monoxide include the fireplace, furnace, water heater, appliances, and garage. It is called the “silent killer” because humans cannot see, smell, or taste it.
The only safe way it can be detected is with a CSA-approved CO alarm.
Protect your loved ones with these safety tips recommended by Kidde, the leading manufacturer of carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in Canada.
1. Always have a licensed technician check all heating systems and other fuel-fired devices annually. Include flues and ductwork ( if they’re cracked or obstructed, lethal CO gas could seep back into your home.
2. Carbon monoxide gas is about the same weight as air. So plug-in, battery powered or combination smoke/CO alarms can be safely installed at any height. The average cost is between $25 and $60 depending on features.
3. The law says CO alarms must be installed outside every sleeping area to increase the likelihood that people asleep will wake up if it goes off.
4. Research shows that homeowners favour CO alarms that have a continuous digital display. The display shows any concentration of the gas, even if it’s below the level that causes the alarm to sound. This allows homeowners to address a small problem before it gets worse.
5. Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, but without the fever. Nausea, headaches, and lethargy can turn into confusion, collapse, and even death with lack of fresh air.
6. The newest generation of CO alarms from Kidde are called “worry-free” because they have a sealed lithium battery that lasts 10 years, as either the primary power source or as backup in case of a power outage. They never need to be replaced for the life of the alarm.
7. Like smoke alarms, carbon monoxide and combination smoke/ CO alarms do not last forever. Whether hardwired, battery powered or plug-in, replace any CO alarm manufactured prior to 2009.