After thirty-plus years in contracting not many things scare me; but there still are a few that do. The big ones for me are the silent killers—the stuff you can’t always see but can do a lot of harm, like radon, asbestos, mould and carbon monoxide.

From November 1st to 7th it’s Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week—a good reminder on how to keep your family safe and protect them against this dangerous gas.

We’ve all heard the stories—a power outage during winter; a family desperate for heat so they decide to bring in a barbeque or fuel-burning heater inside. Or they run a generator inside the garage, which is attached to the home. The next thing you know we have a major tragedy on our hands.

Let’s do everything we can now to prevent this from happening this year.

No. 1—Make sure you have working carbon monoxide (or CO) alarms in your home. There should be one next to all sleeping areas, but I also recommend having one on every level of your home. If you have an attached garage a CO alarm is especially a must.

Dangerous fumes from your cars or fuel-powered tools can make their way inside your home, especially if the garage area hasn’t been properly sealed from the rest of the living area. (Rule of thumb: never leave your cars running inside the garage, or use gas-powered tools, even if the garage doors are open.)

No. 2—Maintain your CO alarms, and smoke alarms, too!

We turn our clocks back an hour on Sunday, November 6th. This is a great time to also change the batteries in both your CO and smoke alarms. You should be changing them twice a year. Doing it when we change our clocks is an easy way to remember, and keeps you on a schedule. You should also be testing your alarms monthly, and keeping them clean by vacuuming them once a month, too!

Like all things, CO and smoke alarms wear out and should be replaced about every ten years or so, but always check the user guide or manual for proper care and maintenance.

No. 3—Get fuel-burning appliances checked every year by a pro.

Before we move into the winter season full force, please folks, get your HVAC systems checked by an HVAC specialist/technician. Any appliance in your home that burns fuel—whether it’s your furnace, hot water heater, gas stove or fireplace—must be checked annually by a qualified pro. 

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, open windows when you have a fire going, and make sure there’s a constant supply of fresh air coming into your home. And you must get your chimney cleaned every year—no exception. I’d book that now, before fireplace season really gets underway.

CO can get into your home a number of different ways. Sometimes it’s because of the appliances we use—they start to wear down and don’t burn fuel the way they should, or there isn’t enough ventilation. In some cases, they weren’t installed right to begin with. Other times it’s because crucial venting was blocked.

That’s why No. 4 is make sure all venting is clear from debris and snow. That includes chimneys, flues, furnace, stove and dryer venting. Blocked venting can lead to loads of problems, including ice damming and mould, but CO poisoning is top of the list when it comes to real threats to your family.

Symptoms of CO poisoning include nausea, dizziness, and headaches, drowsiness even confusion.

If your CO alarm goes off and anyone in your home is feeling the above symptoms, get everyone out of the house immediately and then call 9-1-1. If the alarm goes off but no one is feeling any symptoms, open all the windows and check the alarm. It could be that the batteries need replacing or the device is malfunctioning. If that’s the case get it checked by a qualified technician.

Finally, No. 5—whatever you do, do not use a barbeque, fuel-burning heater or generator indoors! And don’t use your stove or oven for heating! If you don’t have heat call a friend or family member and ask to stay with them while the system is serviced—it’s not worth your life or your family’s.

Let’s make it a safe season, and make it right!