How to stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide detectors
Carbon monoxide alarms at a Home Depot store.
Tim Boyle | Getty Images

The state’s fire marshal says Minnesota has already seen several suspected carbon monoxide deaths this winter, a season when CO poisoning occurs more often.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas that can be emitted by anything burning with a flame, such as stoves, furnaces and water heaters. A concentration of CO indoors can cause severe illness or death if unrecognized.

“Unfortunately some of the symptoms that come along with CO poisoning are mimicking what we see with COVID right now: headache, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath,” said state Fire Marshal Jim Smith. “So they may think they’re just coming down with a cold or something like that, and they dismiss it and things go south.”

Minnesota law requires homes to have at least one carbon monoxide alarm within 10 feet of every bedroom. Alarms can be hard-wired, battery-powered or plugged in. Most need to be replaced every five to seven years.

Prevent CO poisoning with these recommendations from Smith and the Minnesota Department of Health:

  • Install carbon monoxide alarms near bedrooms and furnaces and check or have them checked annually

  • Have a technician check fuel-burning appliances like furnaces once a year to make sure they’re properly vented

  • Check any chimney flues for blockage

  • Don’t keep cars running in enclosed spaces like garages

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