For many of us, the arrival of colder weather and those first flakes of snow, signal the imminent arrival of the festive holiday season. Our thoughts drift to Christmas trees, twinkling lights and sipping hot chocolate by a crackling fire. Before we find ourselves consumed by the traditions of the holiday season, there are some important safety measures we should all review to ensure that our homes continue to be safe havens.

Candles are a very popular way to add ambiance or a nice scent to a room but they should never be left unattended even for a few minutes. Inspect Christmas lights and ensure they are safe and in good working condition. To avoid fire or shock risk, use only approved extension cords, replace any that are damaged and be mindful of overuse.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a very real danger this time of year. Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous because you cannot smell it or taste it and if carbon monoxide fills your home when you are sleeping, you will simply not wake up. Any appliance or device that runs on fuel including wood can produce carbon monoxide.

Progressive conservative MPP Ernie Hardeman first introduced a private members bill calling for mandatory carbon monoxide detectors after the tragic death in 2008 of OPP officer Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard and their two children. A blocked gas fireplace vent sent carbon monoxide through their Woodstock house which did not contain any warning devices. Bill 77 is called the Hawkins-Gignac Act in honor of the family.

Recently the provincial government passed legislation making it mandatory that all homes in Ontario have a working carbon monoxide detector. The Ontario Building Code has required carbon monoxide detectors in new residential construction since 2011 but Bill 77 applies to all homes in the province with a risk of carbon monoxide. If you have oil, propane or gas burning appliances, fireplaces or an attached garage you must have working CO alarms near your sleeping areas. Similar to smoke alarm laws homeowners who do not have a carbon monoxide alarm are subject to fines. Batteries in your CO alarm should be replaced annually although there are CO alarm units that offer sealed lithium batteries with a service life of ten years. Your fuel burning appliances should also be serviced annually to ensure proper working order and proper ventilation.

To minimize the risk of CO in your home:

Have a qualified technician inspect fuel burning appliances, vents and fireplaces to ensure proper operation.
A powerful kitchen exhaust fan can actually cause such negative air pressure in a home that they can pull fumes back down a chimney. A qualified technician can check this and make adjustments to ensure that this is not happening.
Never use gas stove tops or ovens to heat your home.
Always open your garage door before you start your vehicle and pull the car out immediately onto the driveway, then close the garage door.
Never operate barbeques, gas space heaters, lawnmowers, or any gas powered devices in your garage.
Regularly clean your clothes dryer ductwork and outside vent cover to avoid blockages

If your CO detector sounds an alarm evacuate the house including pets. If anyone is suffering from flu like symptoms call 911. If you can identify the source remove it or turn it off, ventilate the house and reset the alarm. If the source cannot be identified, call the fire department and do not reoccupy your home until the problem has been rectified.

For peace of mind this holiday season and beyond, I urge you to ensure you have a working CO alarm in your home – It’s the law.

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