This Colorless, Odorless Gas Can Kill Within Minutes – and It Could Be Inside Your Home

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Carbon monoxide
Image via AndreyPopov/iStock

Every day across the country real estate agents and home buyers talk with home inspectors about the safety of the homes they buy. For one inspector in Omaha, the lessons he shares with homebuyers about home safety, and carbon monoxide (“CO”) in particular, are personal. He came within moments of losing his wife and children to this invisible killer in 1998.

Minutes Away From Tragedy

Al Kanngieser was on a business trip in Atlanta, far from his family, when one morning he woke up late and almost skipped his daily routine of calling his wife before work. Something stopped him just as he was leaving his hotel and he turned back to his room to make the call.

Turning back to make that call was the most important decision Al has ever made.

Al’s wife sounded normal but told him she was staying home for the day because all of the kids were feeling a bit ill. Before hanging up Al asked about the kids’ symptoms. Everyone had the same thing: headaches and nausea. Come to mention it, Al’s wife was feeling a bit sluggish herself. Al knew that these were common symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Al’s instincts kicked in and he instructed his wife to open all the doors and windows, turn off the furnace and get everyone out of the house. The gas company and police were also dispatched. Within 11 minutes a technician from the gas company arrived and performed a CO test that registered twice the lethal level of CO inside the home. Without intervention, the family’s headaches would have given way to unconsciousness and ultimately death. They were lucky to have escaped certain tragedy by mere minutes.

After rushing home, Al replaced the furnace, which was found to have a crack in the heater exchange and also installed a carbon monoxide alarm. Never again would he leave anything to chance. Now, during each inspection he performs, Al shares his personal story in hopes that buyers will think twice about the dangers of CO and the need to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in every home.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and can kill within minutes. About 400 Americans die each year from accidental, non-fire related CO poisoning, according to the CDC. Products that can produce deadly CO levels include generators and faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces.  Leaving vehicles running in attached garages can also lead to CO poisoning. Luckily, you can keep your home and family safe by following these six steps:


  1. Install and maintain CO Alarms with battery backups in hallways near each sleeping area: If your home doesn’t have working CO alarms installed, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING and get them installed. What are you waiting for? Already have them installed? How old are those batteries? Change them every year.
  2. Have all fuel burning home heating systems inspected and serviced annually: Professionals can spot potential problems the rest of us could never see. Annually serviced heating systems are not only safer but can also run more efficiently.
  3. Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion.

If you think you might have CO poisoning, quickly get outside and call 911.


  1. Never operate a portable gas-powered generator in a garage, shed or crawl space or in your home: Even if you opened doors & windows for ventilation, it’s still not safe. CO can affect your health within minutes.
  2. Never start a vehicle in an attached garage without opening the garage door first: Never leave a vehicle running in an attached garage, even if the doors are up. If you need to leave your car running, you need to leave it outside.
  3. Never use a charcoal grill in or near your home or garage: If the weather is bad and you can’t move the grill farther away, consider a different cooking option.
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Dakotah Smith is a Redfin Agent in Omaha, Nebraska. In addition to helping clients find their perfect home, Dakotah has a passion for public safety education and volunteering. He has served the community through volunteer roles such as firefighter /EMT; wilderness search & rescue; Red Cross Disaster Relief & FEMA's local CERT programs.

Email Dakotah
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