From portable heaters to fireplaces and wood stove safety, there are a lot of things to be aware of during a New England winter. But one of the biggest winter dangers is invisible to the naked eye: carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to the CDC, more than 20,000 individuals visit the emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning every year and over 4,000 are hospitalized. The dangers are real, just like in this tragic case in Acushnet. So what can you do to prevent this silent killer from harming your family? Read on for some common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning along with some safety tips to help prevent carbon monoxide leaks.

Wood Stoves and Fuel Burning Space Heaters

If you use a wood stove to stay warm in the winter remember — proper ventilation is key, as a poorly vented wood stove can actually create a buildup of carbon monoxide in your home. HIG recommends that you inspect your wood stove at the start of the season to ensure there is no buildup before you use it. The same goes for fuel burning space heaters. Check and clean your space heater regularly and make sure to use them only in a well-ventilated room. And this should go without saying, but never leave a wood stove or space heater on if it’s unattended.

Snow Blocked Vents

Throughout the winter, you should be checking your exhaust and furnace vents or any intake pipes to make sure they are not blocked by snow. If they are, make sure you remove the snow as soon as possible as this could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Car Related Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you like to warm your car up before leaving the house and have a garage, remember to never do this if your garage door is closed. Running a car in a closed space can also lead to a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Make sure you have carbon monoxide alarms installed on every level of your home, as required by housing code in your town (here are some resources from for our Massachusetts friends and for our friends in Rhode Island). Avoid installing detectors near ceiling fans, vents, or cooking or heating appliances, which can inhibit the detector’s ability to accurately work. Make sure you test them at least once a month and that you replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Now that you know some common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning, you should also know the symptoms. Feeling weak and or dizzy, headaches, nausea, and even ringing of the ears can all be symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep in mind that carbon monoxide poisoning can happen faster in children than in adults because they have faster heartbeats and breathing rates. And don’t forget, your pets are also susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. In addition to symptoms like sleepiness or lethargy, your pets may also become uncoordinated in their movements, have difficulty breathing, or even have seizures if exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Unfortunately, these symptoms occur for a myriad of other illnesses, including the common cold or the flu, making it more difficult to diagnose cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you suspect you or someone you know is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure to call 911 immediately.

Here at HIG, we’re not just insurance agents, we’re also trusted advisors. Your health and safety are our number one priorities. Get in touch today by visiting our website at or by calling our office at 508.676.5949 to learn more about what you can be doing to stay safe this winter.