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Air: Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas you can’t see or smell. It’s created when fuels—like gas, kerosene, propane, or wood—are burned. The toxic fumes can kill you before you are aware it’s in your home.

In homes, carbon monoxide can build up from burning any fuel type in common household appliances, including:

  • Idling cars in a closed garage.
  • Water heaters or clothes dryers.
  • Furnaces, boilers, wood stoves, fireplaces, or space heaters.
  • Ranges/stoves, cooktops, or wall ovens.
  • Portable generators.

Poorly vented, unvented, or malfunctioning appliances, and leaking chimneys and furnaces increase the risk of carbon monoxide. Electric or solar-powered appliances do not produce carbon monoxide.

Each year, more than 400 people die in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and around 50,000 people visit the emergency room.

In Wisconsin, around 500 people go to the emergency room each year because of carbon monoxide. That’s why Wisconsin law requires that each floor of a house have a carbon monoxide detector.

For more information about carbon monoxide in Wisconsin, email us at dhsdphepht@dhs.wisconsin.gov.

What to do if your carbon monoxide detector alarm goes off

  • Take immediate action if you experience:
    • A headache.
    • Dizziness.
    • Confusion.
    • Nausea.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Chest pain.
  • Get fresh air right away. Move everyone outside of the home, then call your local fire department.
  • Do not go back in the home until the fire department has inspected it and declared it safe.

To protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning, follow these safety tips:

  • Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working correctly. Every home and multi-family building in Wisconsin must have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor, including the basement, according to state law. Detectors are not required in the attic or storage areas.

You can buy a carbon monoxide detector from most hardware stores for $20 to $50. When daylight saving time ends—or begins—each spring and fall is a good time to replace the batteries in your detectors and test them to make sure they’re working correctly.

You can also purchase detectors that either plug into an electric outlet or can be hardwired into your home’s electric system. Make sure to use a battery backup in case of a power outage.

You should replace your detectors every five years, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Have your furnace or wood-burning stove inspected each year. Hire a professional each year to make sure your furnace or wood-burning stove is working correctly and venting properly outside of the home.
  • Never run a heater (gas or propane) or grill (gas or charcoal) inside your home or garage. Any heating system that burns fuel produces carbon monoxide. Use a battery-powered detector where you have fuel-burning devices but no electric outlets, such as in tents, cabins, and RVs.
  • Never run a generator within 20 feet of your house. You should run generators at a safe distance from your home. That means you should never run it inside the home or garage, or right next to windows or doors.
  • Never run a car in an enclosed space (such as a garage). Even with a car door or window open, carbon monoxide can build up to an unsafe level.

Learn more in our Protecting Your Family from Carbon Monoxide, P-01569 fact sheet.

Fact sheets

Ice arena resources

Boating resources

  • Safe Boating—This page includes information on boating safety, including how to protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide while on a fuel-powered boat.
  • Staying Safe from Carbon Monoxide While Boating, P-02211—This fact sheet provides information on how to keep yourself and your family safe from carbon monoxide when operating a fuel-powered boat.

Data and webinars

For health professionals

Use the following resources if you’re a Wisconsin health professional. Carbon monoxide poisoning is considered a Wisconsin surveillance category II disease.

Resources

Reportable condition information

Last revised March 9, 2023