8 tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning during a power outage

by | Nov 9, 2023 | Health and Wellness, Home and Living

We’ve all been there, feeling around in the dark for a candle or flashlight during an unexpected power outage. Whether that’s a fun adventure or scary event for you, as the days get colder and darker, it’s more urgent to find a way to stay warm – as well as lighting sources and ways to cook – during a power outage.

Some people choose to use a fuel-powered generator as a backup electricity source for lighting, heating and running a sump pump. Others may opt for outdoor fuel-burning equipment like barbecues or camping stoves for cooking. Any of these options can produce air pollutants that are bad for indoor air quality and can be dangerous to your health.

For example, carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is a gas produced from burning fuels like gasoline, oil, propane, charcoal, natural gas, butane and wood or wood pellets. Carbon monoxide has no smell, taste or colour, and it can only be detected with a CO alarm. At low levels, exposure can cause flu-like symptoms and impaired motor functions. As levels increase, effects include dizziness, chest pain, poor vision, difficulty thinking and eventually loss of consciousness and death.

Here are eight tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in the case of a power outage:

  1. Install certified CO and smoke alarms with a battery backup near sleeping areas, preferably on every floor. The backup means it will continue working during a power outage. Test, maintain and replace alarms according to manufacturer instructions, and leave your home immediately if the alarm sounds.
  2. Never operate portable generators indoors. Also, ensure they are run at least 6 metres from all homes and buildings (including garages and sheds), even if the windows and doors are closed.
  3. Never use outdoor fuel-burning equipment for cooking indoors, including barbecues and camping stoves.
  4. Regularly maintain all fuel-burning household appliances and have them inspected by a professional at least once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer. These include fireplaces, wood and pellet stoves, furnaces and water heaters.
  5. During a power outage, it may be safe to use some natural gas- and propane-powered household appliances, such as fireplaces, that do not need electricity for ventilation.
  6. In addition to their annual professional inspection, frequently check gas- and propane-powered appliances for leaks, cracks, poorly connected gas lines, breaks or tears in connection tubes, and corroded or disconnected venting pipes. Ensure outdoor exhaust vents are not blocked by things like snow or fallen leaves.
  7. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, make sure the chimney is cleaned every fall, or more frequently if required.
  8. Consider investing in solar- or battery-powered equipment and appliances, as they do not produce CO or any other harmful air pollutants.

Find more information at canada.ca/airhealth

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