Learn how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

By Samantha Murray

It’s that time of year when many of us are contemplating whether to throw on another sweater or turn up the heat.  A properly working home heating system is critical to keeping you and your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.

CO DetectorCarbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless gas that can be deadly if left undetected.  When fuels such as natural gas, butane, propane, wood, coal, heating oil, kerosene and gasoline don’t burn completely, they can release carbon monoxide into the air.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu. Depending on the amount of carbon monoxide in the air and length of exposure, symptoms may include headaches, weakness, confusion, chest tightness, skin redness, dizziness, nausea, sleepiness, fluttering of the heart or loss of muscle control.  

If you suspect carbon monoxide is present in your home, go outside immediately and then call 911. If you have natural gas, call your gas utility next and do not return to your home until the carbon monoxide source is found. National Grid’s gas emergency contact numbers are below:

  • Massachusetts: call 1-800-233-5325 or 911
  • Rhode Island: call 1-800-640-1595 or 911
  • LI and the Rockaways: call 1-800-490-0045 or 911
  • Metro NY: call 911 or 1-718-643-4050
  • Upstate NY: call 1-800-892-2345 or 911

Below are important safety reminders to help identify and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

Install government-approved home carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home and ensure there’s a working smoke detector in every bedroom so you’ll “hear the beep while you sleep” in the event of a fire.

  • Schedule a licensed, professional heating contractor to annually check your heating system. It’s not too late to call for this season, if you haven’t already done so.
  • Check chimneys or flues for debris, bird nests, or other blockages and have them cleaned periodically.
  • Be sure space heaters and wood stoves are in good condition, have adequate ventilation and are used in strict compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never use a gas range for heating, or burn coal or charcoal in an enclosed space.
  • If you use a back-up generator to supply power during an outage, always be sure to operate it outdoors.
  • Be mindful that early snowfalls could block vents for furnaces or hot-water heaters causing CO to back up into a building, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning for those inside.
  • Know that open windows do not provide sufficient ventilation to safely operate a generator indoors.
  • Click here to learn more about carbon monoxide and prevention.

More natural gas safety tips for the winter season

Did you know snow and ice can damage gas meters and pipes? To assure uninterrupted gas service, check your outside meter and equipment on a regular basis and clear away any ice or snow buildup.

  • Carefully remove snow and ice from your gas meter by using a broom or by hand. Even though it may be tempting, do not melt ice or snow with a heat source, chip the ice away or use a shovel to scrape it off. These methods can easily damage or break the meter.
  • Do not shovel snow up against the meter or vent pipe.
  • Chimneys and vents for gas appliances should also be cleared following a major snow or ice storm to enable proper venting and prevent equipment malfunction and carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure to locate your vents before the first storm of the season.
  • Remove icicles from overhead eaves and gutters to assure dripping water does not splash and freeze on the meter or vent pipes. If you cannot safely remove it, contact a qualified roofing vendor.
  • Clear a path to the meter so utility employees or emergency responders can access it.
  • If you suspect a natural gas leak, (the odor is similar to rotten eggs), leave immediately and take others with you. Once you’re safe, call 911 or your gas utility right away. Don’t light a match or smoke, turn appliances on or off (including flashlights), use a telephone or start a car. Doing so can produce sparks that might cause the gas to ignite. Remember: Smell gas. Act fast.

For additional gas safety information, visit:

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