How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

CO poisoning is entirely preventable. Protect yourself and your family by learning the symptoms of CO poisoning and how to prevent it.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that you don’t expect to encounter when traveling the great outdoors. However, some of your RV appliances emit carbon monoxide which can be dangerous to your health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to reduce your exposure while enjoying your RV.

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Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust especially at an RV rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carbon monoxide is created when any fuel is burned such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, wood, and coal. It is extremely serious when combustion by-products are not vented outside. Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States each year in homes and RVs. It is important to identify the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and to know how you can prevent it from leaking in your RV.

Some of these risks are located inside your RV but many surround your RV at camp. Be mindful of things that emit carbon monoxide not only in your RV but around it. Including your neighbors’ equipment! The first rule in how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV is to be aware of the sources of carbon dioxide.

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In RVs, carbon monoxide gas usually results from:

  • Exhaust leaks from either a vehicle engine or a generator
  • Improper use of portable gas-powered heaters
  • Someone else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close quarters
Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to detect carbon monoxide in your RV? You can’t. Humans cannot detect carbon monoxide. It is odorless and colorless, which is why it’s called the quiet killer. We must rely on sensors to detect carbon monoxide.

If your RV is not already outfitted with a carbon monoxide detector, you must install one right away. It can save your life. These are as essential as smoke detectors. You can purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector designed for use in RVs.

Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust especially when boondocking © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure you test the detector every time you use the RV and replace the carbon monoxide detector batteries at least once a year. A good time to do this is when you change clocks for daylight savings time or at the beginning of a new camping season.

Related: The Ultimate Guide for Winter Camping

If the detector senses an unsafe amount of carbon monoxide, it will sound the alarm. The alarm is much louder than the beep that warns of a low battery.

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Though humans can’t detect carbon monoxide, we certainly show symptoms of it. If you are aware of these symptoms, you can realize there’s a serious problem more quickly.  Besides the detector, the symptoms are another way to detect carbon monoxide in your RV. These symptoms progress fast—Do not try to “shake them off”!

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The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscular twitching
  • Intense headache
  • Throbbing in the temples
  • Weakness and sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust especially at an RV rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget about your pets! Despite their superior sense of smell, dogs and other pets cannot detect carbon monoxide either. They will be affected much more quickly than humans due to their smaller size.

Related: The 10 Essentials Every RV Owner Should Buy Before Their First Road Trip

If you or anyone else experiences any of these, get to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist you need to seek medical attention. Shut off the vehicle or power the generator down and do not operate it until it has been inspected and repaired by a professional.

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Exposure to carbon monoxide is a huge health hazard and can cause death. It is important to stay vigilant and to be aware of the risk at all times. Take precautions and follow these prevention tips to reduce exposure and keep you and your family safe:

  • Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly
  • Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances usually indicate a lack of oxygen and should be checked by a qualified technician
  • Park your RV so that the exhaust may easily dissipate away from the vehicle
  • Never sleep with a generator running
  • Always have a window open when operating a gas-burning appliance or generator
  • Keep any windows and vents closed if in close proximity to a running vehicle or generator
  • Never use range burners or ovens to heat your RV
  • When cooking with the range, use the range fan and keep a nearby window cracked open
  • Be aware of your neighbor’s setup and make sure they are not directing any exhaust your way
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Follow all directions and warnings if using gas-powered heaters.

Related: 12 Simple RV Maintenance Tips

Don’t take safety for granted while RVing.

Since we’re talking safety…

Read Next: RV Emergency Kit Essentials

Worth Pondering…

Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!

Five RV Tips BEFORE Your First Road Trip

The sun is shining, the RV is washed, and its tank is full

If you have an RV or camper, the open road and possibility of adventure is tempting.

What may not be as enticing is carbon monoxide exposure, usually from improper use of portable gas equipment, operation of someone else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close quarters, or inadequate maintenance.

Palm Campground in Anza-Borrego State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas known as the “silent killer.” It’s produced when a fuel like gasoline, oil, kerosene, natural gas, wood, or propane burns incompletely. Carbon monoxide incidents occur all too often, even though they can be prevented with proper preparation and attention.

Review the following five tips to ensure your RV season is a safe one.

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Test Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Newer models of RV are usually hardwired with a carbon monoxide detector. Test, and replace the carbon monoxide detector as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s a good practice to replace the batteries when you change the clocks for daylight savings time or on a specific date you will remember, such as your first camping trip of the season.

Harvest Moon RV Park, Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Watch Your Generators

Exhaust leaks from a generator are a common cause of carbon monoxide incidents. Inspect the generator exhaust system each time before using it. Do not operate your generator if the exhaust system is damaged in any way or making an unusual noise.

If you are camping in close quarters with other RVs that are running their generators, keep your windows and roof vents closed to prevent exhaust from entering your vehicle.

On-Ur-Wa RV Park, Onawa, Iowa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you use a portable generator, place the generator downwind of the RV with the exhaust pointed away from the camping area. Don’t sleep while the generator is operating and leave a roof vent open while it is running, even during the winter.

Not feeling well? Shut off the generator and step outside for some fresh air just to be sure you aren’t being exposed to carbon monoxide.

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Stay Warm, Safely

Fuel-burning appliances such as portable heaters, portable stoves, barbeques, or kerosene lamps should remain outside when in use—NEVER bring them into your RV. Inside, DO NOT use range burners or the oven to heat an RV. When using the stove, keep the range fan on and always leave a window cracked open for fresh air and ventilation.

Cajun Palms RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning while using appliances attached to your RV, immediately turn them off and open the doors and windows so the gas can escape and leave the RV. While the area is being ventilated, seek medical assistance.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Have your RV serviced by a Certified RV technician

Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly, at least before each outing and after bottoming out or any other incident that could cause damage. Inspect your RV for openings in the floor or sidewalls. If you locate a hole, seal it with a silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again. Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips to ensure that they are sealing properly.

Do you see yellow flames in propane-burning appliances such as coach heaters, stoves, ovens, and water heaters? This usually indicates incomplete combustion which may indicate servicing is required.

New Green Acres RV Park, Walterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Keep Exhaust Away

Park your RV so that exhaust dissipates away from the vehicle. Parking next to tall grasses, fences, walls, or buildings can keep exhaust gases from dissipating as they normally would. To avoid this, be sure there is ample clear space around you when you park. When stopping for long periods of time, be aware of other vehicles around you, such as semis at rest areas, that may have their engines and refrigerators running, and take the necessary precautions. 

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

These simple tips can go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe on the road. Always be sure to have work on your RV and any related gas-fired appliances performed by an individual with the appropriate qualifications.

Much of the above information is courtesy of Technical Safety BC.

Gulf Coast RV Resort, Beaumont, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.