On October 15, 2014 a new bill (Bill 77 – Hawkins Gignac Act) was passed in Ontario, which makes Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors mandatory in every home, regardless of the age of the home. If you have oil, wood or gas burning appliances, a furnace or water heater, wood or gas fireplace, an attached garage or carport, you must have working carbon monoxide alarms located near sleeping areas.
Bill 77 is named after a Woodstock, Ontario family of four who died from CO poisoning in their home. In December 2008, OPP Constable Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard, and their two children died because the vent from their gas fireplace was clogged, and carbon monoxide seeped back into the home. Tragically, they were unaware of the dangerous CO that was present in their home because they did not have a carbon monoxide alarm. Since then, the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation was set up to educate homeowners on the dangers carbon monoxide, and to raise funds to purchase carbon monoxide alarms.
1. KNOW WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT IS GENERATED IN THE HOME
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, propane, kerosene, heating oil, charcoal, gasoline or wood. CO is colourless, odourless and tasteless, and it can build up to dangerous concentrations in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces when fuel burning devices are not properly operated, vented or maintained. When chimneys or vents become dirty and clogged, grills/ kerosene heaters/generators are used indoors (i.e. in power outages due to winter storms), or automobiles are left running in attached garages, home occupants can be exposed to unsafe levels of CO which can cause serious illness, brain damage or even death.
2. ENSURE YOUR GARAGE COMPLIES WITH LOCAL BUILDING CODE
While heating appliances can give off harmful levels of carbon monoxide, gas permeation from the garage can expose your family to CO in dangerous quantities and pose a major threat (exhaust, gasoline vapours, etc.). We recommend taking the time to inspect your garage to make sure that it is meets your local building code to protect your family against dangerous levels of exposure. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, some things that would be included in building codes relating to attached garages include:
• Block walls should be painted with oil based paint or covered with drywall, as they are porous and CO can seep through.
• Common walls and attic spaces must be covered with fire rated drywall, and the seams must be mudded and taped. A research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggest that potentially lethal CO gas can seep through drywall at dangerous levels. No holes or cracks in drywall. Edges of drywall should be sealed with acoustical sealant.
• Connecting door between the house and garage must be a.) above the floor level of the garage to prevent fumes from spilling into the house, b.) properly sealed, c.) have automatic closer on the door, d.) must open outwards into the garage.
3. KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF EXPOSURE
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often mistaken as the flu: headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness or even death. Unfortunately, CO poisoning often happens at night, and people who are sleeping can die before ever experiencing symptoms.
4. FOLLOW THESE SAFETY TIPS
• Install at least one battery operated or battery back-up CSA-6.19.01 approved carbon monoxide alarm outside bedrooms. For optimal protection, install a CO alarm on every floor.
• Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall, or opt for models with 10-year sealed lithium batteries that never need to be changed.
• CO alarms must be replaced every 7-10 years depending on the brand, so check the expiry date of existing CO alarms, and replace any devices built before 2008.
• Ensure your fuel burning appliances ( furnace, range, fireplace, water heater) are working properly and vented correctly with an annual inspection by a licensed technician.
• Never run a vehicle in the garage with the garage door shut. In a closed garage, CO can build up quickly while your vehicle is running. Always open the door to any garage to let in fresh air.
• Do not run lawn mowers, generators, snow blowers or other internal combustion engines in enclosed spaces such as a garage, porch or basement.
• Help older parents or relatives by inspecting their CO alarms.
• Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters (catalytic) indoors – although these heaters don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin or camper.
• Have your chimney inspected and cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris which can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.
5. KNOW WHAT TO DO IF A CO ALARM SOUNDS
If a CO detector sounds and people in the building are experiencing flu-like symptoms, treat it like an emergency medical response: immediately get everyone out of the house, stay out and call 911. Your ability to think clearly is reduced by CO exposure, so never delay if your alarm goes off and you sense a problem.
Keep your family safe: Have your fuel burning appliances checked and cleaned annually, and install a CO alarm on every level of your home for optimal protection.