Unitil is urging homeowners and businesses to check and test their carbon monoxide alarms to ensure they’re in good working order as colder weather arrives and a new heating season begins.
November is Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month, and with Daylight Saving Time also ending on Nov. 5, officials say it’s a good time to replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and increase awareness of the potential for build-up of a gas often referred to as an invisible killer.
“November has been designated ‘Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month’ for good reason,” said Unitil External Affairs Manager Alec O’Meara. “Unfortunately, over a third of poisoning occurs from December through February. Homeowners also need to be mindful that leaves and snow can block vents causing exhaust fumes to back up into the home, so they need to be cleared away from exhaust vents.”
Unitil responded to 78 carbon monoxide-related calls throughout the company’s service territory in 2022, many of which resulted from faulty or outdated carbon monoxide alarms, blocked chimneys or faulty appliances such as cooking stoves, boilers, hot water heaters, and vents blocked by snow and ice.
An odorless and colorless gas, carbon monoxide is found in fumes produced when fuel is burned in heating systems that use oil, wood, gas, charcoal or kerosene and in other equipment such as small gasoline engines, motor vehicles, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges, and water heaters.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause sudden illness and death to occupants of a building where the gas has accumulated, often without anyone realizing that something is wrong. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires.
According to Lunenburg, Mass., Fire Chief Pat Sullivan, it is required by Massachusetts law to have a minimum of one working smoke and carbon monoxide alarm on every level of the home. “With the heating season upon us, it is especially important homeowners and renters check their detectors. Unfortunately, we see too many homes without working detectors, which are critical to keeping the homeowner safe.”
Sullivan said that many of the calls they receive are for gas grills, generators and even automobiles that are operated too closely to the home or garage. “We find during storms, people have a tendency to place these items under a deck or near open garage doors, but carbon monoxide can quickly seep into the home,” he said.
He added: “It is important to test and make sure the detectors are in good working order. I also can’t over emphasize that natural gas, propane and oil-fired appliances should be serviced annually to make sure they are in good working order.” The fire chief noted that the town of Lunenburg has a program that provides free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for its senior citizens that have financial hardship.
New Hampshire State Fire Marshal Sean P. Toomey stressed the importance of having working carbon monoxide alarms to save lives.
“During colder months, when people tend to spend more time indoors, carbon monoxide can easily and quickly build up to deadly levels, unnoticed. New Hampshire fire departments respond to an average of 2,800 calls related to carbon monoxide each year. Since 2017, eight residents have died in such incidents and none of them had working carbon monoxide alarms. To provide early warning and protect your health, working CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including basements,” Toomey said.
The New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office offers the following safety tips:
- Have heating systems and water heaters serviced annually by a licensed, qualified professional.
- Make sure your gas-powered equipment displays the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL).
- Be sure to have your chimney checked to make sure it’s not blocked by debris, which can cause carbon monoxide to build up in homes and cabins.
- Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
- Test carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month
- If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
- Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
- During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
- A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
- Gas or charcoal grills can produce carbon monoxide and should only be used outside.
- Have fuel-burning heating equipment and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in. When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation. Never use your oven to heat your home.
For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, visit Unitil's Carbon Monoxide Poisoning webpage.