‘Silent danger’: How to make sure your home is safe from carbon monoxide


There are so many responsibilities that come with being a homeowner, and making sure your house is in tip-top shape is just one of them. For some, this may include updating appliances, repainting dull or aging surfaces, or refreshing the patio space.

But, among your list of residential responsibilities, safety measures should be at the top. Preventing carbon monoxide from lurking in your living areas is imperative.

Often labeled as the “silent danger,” this odorless, colorless gas can injure or kill quite easily. Taking proper precautions and preventive measures against high levels of carbon monoxide, which leads to poisoning, is essential for homeowners especially when it comes to unexpected sources of the gas.

In any house, many items produce carbon monoxide, each of which needs proper inspection and maintenance to keep danger at bay.

Here are some of the home’s most common sources of carbon monoxide, along with the action you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Gas dryers: Clean them regularly. You may already know that your clothes dryer can present a fire hazard, but did you know your dryer can become the source of a carbon monoxide leak? Gas-powered dryers can become clogged over time with lint and other debris, blocking the ventilation and potentially pushing carbon monoxide fumes into your home rather than outside.

Make sure to keep your dryer clear by cleaning it regularly — including the lint trap, inside the dryer, and the vent ducts. You should clean your lint trap before and after a dryer cycle, and clean your vent pipes once a year, says the National Fire Protection Association.

You should also have your gas dryer inspected occasionally to ensure no potential leaks are possible.

Water heaters: They need fitted pipes. With symptoms that include headaches, dizziness, weakness, confusion, chest pain, and feeling flu-ish, no one wants carbon monoxide poisoning. But you most likely do want a hot shower.

A water heater poses several potential opportunities for carbon monoxide leaks. Similarly to a gas dryer, a hot water heater’s exhaust can become blocked over time. Also, if it’s installed improperly, there may be gaps in the exhaust pipes that can eventually leak.

Have your water heater inspected by a technician every year to make sure it is running properly and that the vent pipes are fitted tightly. Hot water heaters should also be properly ventilated with horizontal vent pipes, ensuring that fumes move up and out of the home.

Gas stoves and ovens — caution after cooking. Many home cooks prefer gas stoves and ovens over electric for cooking purposes, but it’s crucial to use this appliance with caution.

Remember to never use your gas stove or oven to heat your home — not only does this not heat your home well, but the appliance will give off excess carbon monoxide fumes when used for an extended period of time, making it a dangerous activity. If you have kids in the home who like to mess with stove knobs, make sure you double check before leaving the kitchen that they’re turned off. Or, you can also use stove knob covers to keep curious children from playing with the knobs in the first place.

When using a gas stove, oven, or fireplace indoors, ensure you have proper ventilation in your kitchen, like a range hood that leads directly outdoors. Regular inspection and maintenance of your gas range or oven are essential in catching a device that isn’t properly working.

When it comes to fireplaces, both wood-burning and gas models pose risks for carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is created naturally by wood-burning fireplaces due to the combustion, or burning, of the wood. Gas fireplaces work similarly to other gas appliances, relying on a gas line to ignite the flame and push out warmth to the room.

Chimneys must be intact and remain clear in order to allow carbon monoxide and other fumes to escape the home. Built-up debris can create a blockage that allows carbon monoxide to collect inside. If your chimney isn’t in good condition — for example, if bricks are breaking or cracking on the inside — make sure it’s dealt with and repaired before using the fireplace.

Regular inspection of your chimney will reduce the risk of any unforeseen carbon monoxide issues popping up.

Grills: Don’t use them inside. If you own a propane or charcoal grill, do not, under any circumstance, use it indoors or in a garage. These grills create high levels of carbon monoxide, and can quickly fill an enclosed space with harmful fumes.

A safe alternative for grilling up hamburgers indoors is to use an indoor grill, made specifically for indoor use.

Our favorite choice among all the indoor grills we tested is the Cuisinart Griddler Deluxe. For a more affordable option, we recommend the George Foreman Grill and Panini Press.

Take these preventative measures. When appliances and other items around the home go uninspected or simply break down unexpectedly, it’s important to have a backup layer of protection to let you know if you and your household is in danger of high levels of carbon monoxide.

For this reason, every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector. As you would a smoke detector, you should test the CO detector at least once a year to make sure it works or whether its batteries need to be replaced.

You can also purchase a combination carbon monoxide and smoke detector — we tested tons of these detectors and rated the Nest Protect Alarm as our best overall choice.


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