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Carbon Monoxide in Your Home


There is a Massachusetts law that addresses the potential for carbon monoxide gas in residential dwellings and preventive measures to take.  It took effect on March 31, 2006. “Nicole’s Law”, Chapter 123 of the Acts of 2005, was signed by Governor Mitt Romney on November 4, 2005.  This law is named for Nicole Garofalo, a 7 year old Plymouth girl who died in her family home after snow blocked a heating vent, trapping carbon monoxide gases inside the home.


Among its several requirements, Nicole’s Law includes that there be working carbon monoxide detectors in every dwelling, building, or structure occupied in whole or in part for residential purposes that contain fossil-fuel burning equipment, including boilers, furnaces, fireplaces and hot water heaters and/or enclosed parking.


The law also provides for the imposition of stricter requirements for new construction or dwellings, buildings and structures that have been substantially renovated so as to constitute the equivalent of new construction.


What is Carbon Monoxide?


Carbon monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.  It is the most toxic substance you will come in contact with in your daily life.


Where is Carbon Monoxide Found?


Carbon monoxide gas is produced whenever any fuel, such as wood, charcoal, gas, oil or kerosene is burned.  It can be found in your home, at work, in your garage, car, or boat.  There are hundreds of fatalities every year from carbon monoxide and just a small amount of carbon monoxide in your living area can cause major problems over time.


Winter snows can create drifts that block exhaust vents, forcing carbon monoxide gas to back-up into your home.  High efficiency appliances and those with power-vent blowers by definition waste less heat, so the exhaust temperature is very low.  Often it is too low to melt snow in a plugged exhaust pipe or vent.  To provide proper ventilation, keep sidewall and direct vents clear of obstructions, drifting snow, and bushes.




Carbon monoxide poisoning enters the lungs and blood where it competes with oxygen normally carried by red blood cells.  Carbon monoxide attaches to the cells 200 times more easily than oxygen.  Without oxygen, the cells begin to die.  Exposure to carbon monoxide can produce flu-like symptoms such as fainting, confusion, dizziness, nausea and headaches.


What Do You Do If Exposed?


If you suspect you are being exposed to carbon monoxide, get out of the building and get fresh air.  Call your local fire department.  If you have symptoms, seek medical help immediately.


How Do I Protect Myself and Family?


Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.  The detector should be approved by Underwriters Laboratory or a similar, certified national laboratory.


Place the detectors near bedrooms and where people spend most of their time.  Do not place the detectors in a garage, furnace room or near the stove or fireplace.


Detectors should be kept away from open windows or doors, cold or damp areas, excessively hot areas, and areas such as corners of rooms and peaks of ceilings where there are “dead-air spaces”


How Do I Prevent the Problem?


If appliances that burn fuel are properly maintained and used, the amount of carbon monoxide is usually not hazardous.  Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions that come with fuel burning devices.  Appliances that are not working properly or are used incorrectly can produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.


Other steps to take include having a qualified service technician inspect your appliances yearly, before the heating season.  Check vent pipes, flues, and chimneys for leaks or blockages.  Never use a charcoal grill indoors.


Other steps for prevention include not running a vehicle inside a garage, even if the door is open, not sleeping in any room with an un-vented gas heater.  Also do not use a gas oven to heat your home and never use gasoline-powered engines such as generators, chainsaws, mowers etc. in enclosed spaces.

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