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Indoor environmental quality

Carbon monoxide — Your safe home

Wanda Olson and Paul Morin
Reviewed by Kathleen Norlien

English | Hmong | Somali | Spanish

This fact sheet (204 K PDF) may be reprinted in its entirety for educational purposes.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, often called CO, is a poisonous gas. You cannot see, smell, or taste it. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen when you have a large amount of this gas in the air in your home at one time, or smaller amounts of the gas in the air for several days. Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels like gas, oil, kerosene, wood, charcoal, or coal burn.

What does carbon monoxide poisoning do to our bodies?

Carbon monoxide poisoning can make you headachy, dizzy, tired, or sick to your stomach. If you and your family feel this way in your home, and then get better when you leave your home, and then get the same sick feelings back when you return home, you may have carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon Monoxide Can Kill You.

How do I keep carbon monoxide from getting into my home?

Carbon monoxide can get in your home when fuels are burned to heat your home, to heat water, or when cooking. Your heating equipment should vent (send) this gas outside of your house. Sometimes chimneys don't work well and the burning gases get into your house. Carbon monoxide in car exhaust may leak into your home from an attached garage.

Air in the room mixes with the burning gases and goes up the chimney. All air should flow up the chimney, not down. When your furnace or water heater is heating, the vent connector should be very hot to the touch.

Who is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning?

Everyone can be poisoned by breathing in too much carbon monoxide. Everyone! But this gas is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies, infants, children, elderly people, and people who have anemia or some heart and lung health problems.

How can I find out if my home has too much carbon monoxide in it?

Health professionals and heating equipment experts recommend that you have a trained person check your heating equipment. Minnesota law requires homes to have a UL-listed carbon monoxide alarm within 10 feet of each bedroom.

Install this detector near bedrooms so that the detector's alarm will wake your family if too much carbon monoxide is in the air. Detectors can vary in cost from about $30 to $50. You can buy them at hardware and discount stores.

What do I do if the alarm on my detector rings?

Get the family outside and call 911. This is very important if anyone in your family feels sick.

The operator will ask you questions to see if an emergency response (fire department or ambulance) is necessary. If not an emergency:

  1. open windows
  2. if possible, shut off fuel-burning equipment
  3. contact your fuel supplier or someone trained to repair heating equipment or chimneys.

If I have a carbon monoxide problem in my home, how can I fix it?

If you rent your home, call the landlord or the building manager who collects your rent.

If you own your home, call your fuel supplier or someone who is trained to repair heating equipment. They will test your equipment, find the source of the carbon monoxide, and fix it or tell you who can fix it.

How can I protect myself and my family from carbon monoxide poisoning?

Make sure that heating equipment, chimneys, and vent pipes are in good condition.

Buy a carbon monoxide detector and install it near your family's bedrooms.

Burn charcoal or use outdoor gas grills only outside your house. Do not use inside your house, or in your garage.

Never leave your car motor, snowblower, lawn mower, or portable generator running in an attached garage or next to an open window so that carbon monoxide does not leak into your house.

Do not use a gas range or oven to heat your home. The oven burners will make too much carbon monoxide inside your house.

Do not use fuel burning equipment indoors, including inside tents, fishing or ice houses, garages or boat cabins.

Where can I get more information?

For more information (in English) on carbon monoxide poisoning, call the Minnesota department of Health. In the Twin Cities, call (651) 201-4601, outside of the Twin Cities call (800) 798-9050, or call your city or county board of health or your county extension office.

For information (in English), go to: Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning in Your Home (Minnesota Department of Health)


Editor: Karen Burke, Educational Development System, Minnesota Extension.

Translator: Mery Amalia Mendoza

Artist: Dan Ashby

Furnace Diagram: Theresa Bauer, Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel

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