NY.gov Portal State Agency Listing Search all of NY.gov

Silent Dangers in Your Home: Is Your Home’s Indoor Air Safe?

Breathe easier with these tips from NYSERDA

September 15, 2011

Is the air your family breathes safe? It's an important question, because some air pollutants — like carbon monoxide and radon — can't be seen or smelled. Now that summer is over, your family will be spending more time inside. Follow these precautions from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to secure your home and give your family peace of mind.

Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced from burning any fuel. Where does carbon dioxide come from? Examples are unvented kerosene or gas space heaters, wood or coal stoves, faulty gas or oil furnaces, poorly ventilated or dirty fireplaces— even tobacco smoke. In high doses, carbon monoxide can cause headaches, weakness, nausea, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and even death. Here are a few ways you can prevent this dangerous gas from affecting your family's health:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector. Similar to a smoke alarm, this device will signal a carbon monoxide issue in your home. Regardless of whether you're using a battery or electric model, test the device regularly to make sure it's fully operational. Change batteries yearly, when you check your smoke alarm.
  • To ensure proper ventilation, hire an expert to inspect and clean all vents, chimney flues, gas water heaters, furnaces and fireplaces.
  • Regularly inspect all fuel-burning appliances, including furnaces, ranges, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and free-standing room heaters. Look for signs of excessive wear or faulty combustion.
  • If you are installing combustion equipment — like a woodstove or gas fireplace logs — in your living space, be sure the area is well-ventilated to reduce the risk of gas exposure.
  • Select gas appliances such as ovens, space heaters, fireplaces and barbeque grills that do not require the use of a pilot light.
  • Never use an oven to heat your house.
  • Never leave your car running in an attached garage.

Natural Gas Leaks: Like carbon monoxide, natural gas is colorless. However, utility companies are required to give the gas a unique odor similar to that of rotten eggs for easier detection. Natural gas can be released through faulty or malfunctioning appliances, so it's important to maintain all appliances properly to reduce the risk of exposure to air contaminants. Follow these tips to take the appropriate safety measures:

  • Make sure that qualified contractors install, inspect, repair and perform annual maintenance on all natural gas equipment and appliances.
  • If you notice a fuel leak in your home, such as propane or heating oil, call your supplier right away and vacate your home.
  • If your contractor detects a leak through odor or using an electronic gas leak meter, the contractor should immediately determine how severe the leak is and take the appropriate actions.
  • Don't move gas appliances, even slightly, as this could compromise the gas and vent connections.
  • When using a gas stove, make sure the gas flames do not expand further than the bottom of the pot you are using. This can be a dangerous fire hazard.
  • Keep your burners clean for greater energy efficiency and safety.
  • Do not store flammable products near your gas appliances.

Having a comprehensive home energy assessment conducted by an accredited Home Performance contractor can also help ensure that your equipment is operating as efficiently as possible and you are living in a healthy, safe environment. To find out how you can qualify for a free or reduced-cost whole house energy assessment in New York State, go to NYSERDA's Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® Program.

To learn about other indoor pollutants that may be present in your home, including radon, biological agents, nitrogen oxides, respiratory particulates, environmental tobacco smoke, lead and volatile organic chemicals, go to: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.htmlLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page. or http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/466.html.Link opens in new window - close new window to return to this page.

For more energy-saving and safety tips from NYSERDA, visit our Resources Tips.


NYSERDA,a public benefit corporation, offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. NYSERDA professionals work to protect our environment and create clean-energy jobs. NYSERDA has been developing partnerships to advance innovative energy solutions in New York since 1975.

Last Updated: 01/17/2014