Protecting Yourself During a Carbon Monoxide Leak

a carbon monoxide detector

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very serious matter. Because carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, it is all too easy to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning without realizing it. This is further complicated by the fact that most major symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to many other, much more common illnesses. If you suspect for any reason that you have a carbon monoxide leak in your home, you should take immediate action.

Step 1 - Seek Medical Attention

This is always a good place to start if you even suspect exposure to carbon monoxide, but especially if your symptoms are remotely serious or if you know for a fact that a serious leak is present. Immediate medical attention is important to know exactly how serious your exposure is. Even 1 percent of carbon monoxide (equivalent to 10,000 parts per million) diluted through the air in your home is enough to kill a person in under ten minutes.

If you are experiencing little or no symptoms, and if you suspect a mild leak but aren’t sure the leak actually exists, you may opt to take this step later. However, you should still always seek medical attention, even for limited exposure, especially if you have conditions such as asthma that could be made worse by the exposure. Also, if your carbon monoxide alarm is going off at all, you should seek medical attention immediately regardless of how you feel and then call the fire department.

Step 2 - Check Carbon Monoxide Levels

images showing sources of carbon monoxide

This step should only be taken if you are experiencing mild symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure, if you aren’t sure of whether or not you’ve been exposed at all, and if you already have a carbon monoxide detector that displays a reading of parts per million.

If you are experiencing anything more than light symptoms, ignore this step and skip straight to step 5. If you have no readily available carbon monoxide detector that displays parts per million, skip to step 5.

Step 3 - Open Doors and Windows

Again, this is a step to be taken only for a minor leak and only if you are presenting little or no symptoms. You should open all doors and windows to allow as much fresh air as possible into your home. If available, set up some fans to blow the indoor air outside and further circulate in fresh air. The best method to create good airflow is to have fans on opposite sides of the house, with the fans on one side sucking fresh air in and the fans on the other blowing out.

If you are experiencing anything more than light symptoms, once again skip ahead to Step 5.

Step 4 - Cut-off the Source of the Leak

If the levels are low, or you are presenting very mild symptoms, you should shut off all appliances that may contribute to carbon monoxide poisoning. This is including, but not limited to, gas stoves and fireplaces, automobile exhaust, and anything else around the house that operates via burning of any fuel source.

Do not attempt to locate the leak yourself, as this is likely to be where the highest concentration of carbon monoxide is and the exposure could be very dangerous.

Step 5 - Call the Fire Department


Regardless of prior steps taken, the safest thing you can do next to seeking immediate medical attention is to call the fire department. You should vacate the building until the fire department arrives, locates the leak, and clears the building for you to go back in.