Learn the symptoms and how to stay safe all year long.

By Jennifer Aldrich and Jessica Bennett
Updated November 13, 2020
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Now that temperatures are dropping, Americans are cranking up the heat in their homes and cars. Plus, many of us are spending more time at home than ever before due to the coronavirus pandemic. And while your furnace keeps you warm and cozy, it also releases carbon monoxide (CO) into the air, which can cause sickness and even death. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "CO poisoning is entirely preventable." Here's what you need to know about the dangers and how to keep you and your family safe from carbon monoxide.

Credit: Ryan McVay/Getty Images

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

You've probably heard of the term, and hopefully, you already have a CO alarm in your home. The poisonous gas is both colorless and odorless, which makes it especially dangerous. "CO is often called 'the silent killer' because it's extremely difficult to detect without an alarm," said Sharon Cooksey, marketing and communications manager at Kidde, a manufacturer of CO alarms and other home safety accessories. CO comes from the fumes of cars, stoves, fireplaces, grills, and other fuel-burning objects. The CDC reports that 50,000 people visit the emergency room and at least 430 people die each year from CO poisoning.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

CO poisoning causes flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC. Sufferers report dizziness, headaches, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Although everyone is at risk for poisoning (including pets), the elderly, infants, and those with anemia, breathing problems, or chronic heart disease have a higher risk of becoming sick. People who are asleep or intoxicated are also vulnerable because they might miss these warning signs.

How to Prevent CO Poisoning

Every homeowner should have several battery-operated CO alarms in their home. The CDC recommends placing a detector near every area where you sleep so that it can wake you up in case of an emergency. Check the devices regularly and always replace the batteries immediately when they begin to run low (the device will beep when it needs new ones). The experts at Kidde recommend replacing every alarm at a minimum of 7-10 years. If you can't remember the date you installed the detector, check the manufacturing date, which is usually located on the back of the alarm, and do the math to determine when it needs to be replaced.

Your water heater, heating system, chimney, and any appliances that burn gas, oil, or coal should be checked at least once per year by a professional. Also, double-check that your gas devices are vented correctly. Do not use a portable gas stove indoors and never burn charcoal inside your home. Portable generators should also never be used anywhere inside your home, according to the Portable Generator Manufacturers' Association.

Your car also produces CO, so make sure to take your vehicle to a mechanic yearly to check the exhaust system for leaks. Never leave your car running while it's in the garage, even if the door is open.

Incidents of CO poisoning increase in the winter when people use their heating systems more often, but the risk exists year-round. These top-rated CO detectors can help ensure you stay safe at home.

Credit: Courtesy of The Home Depot

A bestseller at The Home Depot, this carbon monoxide detector plugs directly into a wall outlet so installation is a snap. It includes two AA batteries that offer backup in case of a power outage and a tamper-resistant feature that alerts you if the device is unplugged, making it ideal for homes with small children. At the end of its approximately 10-year life, the device will chirp every 30 seconds to let you know it's time for a replacement.

Buy It: Kidde Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detector with AA Battery Backup ($20, The Home Depot)

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

The most affordable option on our list, this streamlined carbon monoxide detector has just one button that can be used to test or silence the device. It plugs into an outlet and uses a sensor to detect carbon monoxide levels no matter where it's placed in the room. An end-of-life warning lets you know to replace the device after about 7 years.

Buy It: First Alert Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detector ($17, Amazon)

Credit: Courtesy of The Home Depot

This carbon monoxide alarm runs on a 10-year lithium battery that lasts the lifespan of the device, which means you never have to worry about low-power chirps or replacing batteries. Simply replace the entire device after the internal timer goes off. The detector attaches to a mounting bracket for easy installation, and its digital display updates the CO level every 15 seconds for extra peace of mind.

Buy It: Kidde 10-Year Worry-Free Lithium Battery Carbon Monoxide Detector with Digital Display ($45, The Home Depot)

Credit: Courtesy of The Home Depot

This smart device connects to your home's Wi-Fi and sends alerts to your phone if it detects smoke or a carbon monoxide leak. That way, you'll know immediately if the alarm goes off even if you're not home. It also detects the location of the problem and advises you on what to do in case of an emergency. The wired device tests itself automatically to ensure the system is working properly and includes three lithium batteries for backup power.

Buy It: Google Nest Protect Wired Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector ($119, The Home Depot)


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