Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.2 Quality of the Outdoor and Indoor Environment

5.2.9 Prevention and Management of Toxic Substances Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide detector(s) should be installed in child care settings if one of the following guidelines is met:

  1. The child care program uses any sources of coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, natural gas, or any other product that can produce carbon monoxide indoors or in an attached garage;
  2. If detectors are required by state/local law or state licensing agency.

Facilities must meet state or local laws regarding carbon monoxide detectors. Detectors should be tested monthly. Batteries should be changed at least yearly. Detectors should be replaced at least every five years.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engine-powered equipment such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide detectors are the only way to detect this substance.

Carbon monoxide poisoning causes symptoms that mimic the flu; mild symptoms are typically headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. Prolonged exposure can cause confusion, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, and even death.

On average, about 170 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide produced by non-automotive consumer products (1). These products include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters, and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas. In 2005 alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff was aware of at least ninety-four generator-related carbon monoxide poisoning deaths (1). Still others die from carbon monoxide produced by non-consumer products, such as cars left running in attached garages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that several thousand people go to hospital emergency rooms every year to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning (1).

Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. One carbon monoxide detector should be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area. Carbon monoxide detectors may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall. Hard-wired or plug-in carbon monoxide detectors should have battery backup. Installing carbon monoxide detectors near heating vents, locations that can be covered by furniture or draperies, above fuel-burning appliances or in kitchens should be avoided (1).

There are a number of safety steps that child care programs can do to help prevent carbon monoxide exposure (1-3):

  1. Make sure major appliances are professionally installed and inspected according to local building codes and have older appliances checked for malfunctions and leaks;
  2. Choose vented appliances when possible;
  3. Have heating systems inspected and cleaned by a qualified technician annually and make sure the chimney is clean and with a proper draft control to ensure a proper vent for flue gases;
  4. Check the color of the flame in the burner and pilot light (a yellow-colored flame indicates the fuel is not burning efficiently and could be releasing more carbon monoxide) (4);
  5. Never use a gas oven to heat your facility;
  6. Do not burn charcoal indoors;
  7. Never operate gasoline-powered engines or generators in confined areas in or near the building;
  8. Never leave a vehicle running in a garage or closed area. Even if the garage door is open, normal circulation will not supply enough fresh air to prevent a buildup of CO gas;
  9. If the CO alarm goes off or if you have symptoms of CO poisoning, exit the building and call 9-1-1.

For other questions on CO poisoning call the poison center.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
  1. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 2008. Carbon monoxide questions and answers. Document #466. Bethesda, MD: CPSC.
  2. Cowling, T. 2007. Safety first: Carbon monoxide poisoning. Healthy Child Care 10(5): 6-7.
  3. Safe Kids Worldwide.  Home Safety Fact Sheet.
  4. Tremblay, K. R., Jr. 2006. Preventing carbon monoxide problems. Colorado State University Extension.