SoCalGas - Carbon Monoxide (CO)
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Carbon Monoxide (CO)

To help keep your gas appliances operating safely and efficiently, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) or a licensed, qualified professional should check your gas appliances every year. Not performing annual maintenance may result in inefficient appliance operation, and in some cases, dangerous exposure to carbon monoxide.

What causes carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is formed when carbon-based fuels, such as kerosene, gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, charcoal or wood, are burned with inadequate amounts of oxygen, creating a condition known as incomplete combustion. In the case of home gas appliances, this can be caused by improper installation, poor maintenance, appliance misuse or failure.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

When incomplete combustion occurs in your home’s gas appliances, carbon monoxide is produced, and this can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning of you and your family. The early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning produce unexplained flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and mental confusion. Since carbon monoxide displaces the oxygen in the blood, prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to death.

Signs that may indicate the presence of carbon monoxide

  • A yellow, large and unsteady gas appliance burner flame (with the exception of decorative gas log appliances).
  • An unusual pungent odor when the appliance is operating. This may indicate the creation of aldehydes, a by-product of incomplete combustion.
  • Unexplained nausea, drowsiness and flu-like symptoms.

What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide is present in your home

  • If safe to do so, immediately turn off the suspected gas appliance.
  • Evacuate the premises and call 911.
  • Seek medical attention if anyone in the home experiences possible carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.
  • Contact SoCalGas at 1-800-427-2200 or a licensed, qualified professional immediately to have the appliance inspected.
  • Don’t use the suspected gas appliance until it has been inspected, serviced and determined to be safe by SoCalGas or a licensed, qualified professional.

How to maintain and use gas appliances to prevent carbon monoxide

  • Vacuum around burner compartments, and inspect and replace furnace filters on forced-air units or central heating systems according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Make sure to properly replace the front panels of a forced-air unit or the burner compartment door of a gas wall heater.
  • Never store anything near a gas appliance that might interfere with normal appliance airflow.
  • Assure that appliance venting is intact and unblocked. Have all gas appliances and venting repairs done by a licensed, qualified professional.
  • In higher altitude areas, where snow can accumulate on rooftops, ensure that gas appliance intake and exhaust vents are clear of obstructions.
  • When using your gas fireplace, make sure the damper is open.
  • Never use your gas oven for space heating.
  • Gas appliance maintenance is always the homeowner’s responsibility. However, SoCalGas will perform appliance safety checks upon request.

Carbon monoxide home alarms

California's Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010 requires that all residential properties with a fossil fuel burning appliance, fireplace or attached garage be equipped with an approved carbon monoxide alarm.

As of July 1, 2011, all single family homes must be equipped with a carbon monoxide alarm. All other residential units must have a carbon monoxide alarm by January 1, 2013. Only carbon monoxide alarms that are approved by the California State Fire Marshall and have the Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) Certification may be used. Carbon monoxide alarms are available at your local hardware and home improvement stores.

Even though carbon monoxide alarms may provide an extra level of safety, they require routine maintenance and replacement at least every three to five years to perform properly. Even with alarms in place, regular gas appliance maintenance is still required. Inspection and routine maintenance are still an effective defense against accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from natural gas appliances.