Do your tweens know about CO?

The other day as I was leaving the house to run some errands I grabbed my boots by the door and noticed the carbon monoxide detector plugged into the wall. I made a mental note to test it later that evening, and started walking towards the door. Then, suddenly it dawned on me. Do my kids know what carbon monoxide is? Do they know what to do if the alarm sounds when they are home alone? Very unsettling!

How could we have overseen this? We had checked the smoke detectors, did fire drills, but we hadn’t yet talked to our kids about carbon monoxide! This was an important teachable moment.

So I asked the boys, “Do you know what this is?” pointing at the CO detector.

“No, what is it?”

They did not know what it was.

“It’s a carbon monoxide detector.”

“What does it do?” one of them asked.

“It detects carbon monoxide in the air. Carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas, poisonous. It’s odourless and colourless, so you can breathe it in without even knowing. It will make you pass out. So, if you hear the detector beeping, you need to get out the house IMMEDIATELY.”

“Does it sound like the smoke alarm?” my eldest asked.

“Yes.” I pressed the test button, so they could hear the beeping.

“Why is it in the air anyway?”

“Well, the gas is produced whenever we heat the house, burn fuels like oil, propane, wood, etc., but we can’t smell it or see it. It builds up in the house and can poison you without warning.”

I repeated, “So, if you hear this beeping, you need to get out of the house immediately!”

“Can I take the dog with me?”

“Well, you need to get out of the house immediately, so don’t worry about the dog. He will follow you.”

“Can I hold my breath while I look for the dog?”

Valid question.

“Nope, just get out of the house immediately.”

I realized then that the best thing to do was to run a few CO practice drills, dog included.

Truth be told, 2-in-1 combination smoke and CO detectors (with voice alert) do exist and can be easily purchased at any hardware store. But if you own a simple CO detector, like we do, you might want to ask your kids if they know what that device is for.


(featured CO molecule image from

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