In just one year, the percentage of rental units with a carbon monoxide detector nearly doubled, jumping from 34 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2010, according to officials from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increase, according to CDCP, can be credited in large part to property owners complying with a 2009 state law requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all rental units, new single-family homes, and existing homes whenever a property transfer occurs.

The data, collected from a statewide survey, also indicate that the overall percentage of Maine households with carbon monoxide detectors has been steadily increasing over several years, from 35 percent in 2004 to 54 percent in 2010. Despite these increases, nearly one in two homes is without a detector, leaving its residents without adequate protection against carbon monoxide poisoning.

“The good news is that the number of homes with carbon monoxide detectors is moving in the right direction,” said CDCP director, Dr. Sheila Pinette, in a press release. “But we need to do better. Having an electric carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup near where people sleep can save lives and is especially important in cold weather when heating your home.”

More than two-thirds of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occur between November and March in Maine, most of them due to malfunctioning heating systems or blocked flues and vents. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there were no carbon monoxide detectors present in the home.

“Detectors are extremely important if carbon monoxide begins to build up in your home,” explained state toxicologist, Andrew Smith, ScD, in the news release. “But it is even more important to keep carbon monoxide from ever building up in your home.”

Anything that burns fuel, such as an oil or propane boiler or wood stove, produces carbon monoxide. When these appliances are not properly maintained or vented, carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels inside a home without anyone noticing. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and can be lethal, Smith said.

“Now is the time to make sure your heating system is running safely, check your flue for nests or other blockages, put fresh batteries in your carbon monoxide detector or get a detector if you don’t have one,” said Dr. Smith. “These are the best things you can do to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning this winter.”

Facts about Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a gas that can cause sickness, coma or death when it builds up in enclosed spaces. It is not seen, does not smell and cannot be tasted. Warning signs of poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide exposure results in more than 100 emergency department visits each year in Maine.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials recommend the following:

  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Don’t use a gas-powered generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gas or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window or door. Generators should be more than 15 feet from your home when running.
  • Don’t run a car, truck or any other motor inside a garage or other enclosed space, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don’t try to heat your house with a gas oven.

Make sure you have a CO detector with a battery back-up in your home near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. You can buy an alarm at most hardware stores or stores that sell smoke detectors. By law, all rental units must have a CO detector — talk to your landlord if you don’t have one in your apartment or rental house.

If your CO alarm goes off, get out of the house right away and call 911. Get prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.

For data about CO poisoning in Maine: For more information about CO detector law: