TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- As we begin to use our heaters more often, officials remind residents to make a few other adjustments to your home ahead of winter as well.
Those adjustments could save your life from a dangerous silent killer if added into a regular winter routine.
Is a carbon monoxide detector really on people's minds?
13 News visited a Topeka neighborhood to find out.
Some had them.
"We've had one for quite a few years. Never had to use it, thank God for that," homeowner Richard Kress said.
"It's one of those things you think about but then you end up putting it somewhere in the back of your mind," neighbor Jennifer Gaskin said. "You kind of think, well that won't happen to us."
But it did happen to the North family several years ago when their children were little.
Mother Brenda North describes it as an awful experience.
After leaving a gas fireplace on by accident, it spread carbon monoxide throughout the house.
North said it happened overnight, while they were sleeping. When the family woke up the next morning, they all felt nauseated. She didn't think once it was carbon monoxide poisoning.
"I couldn't think at all, my head was hurting. I thought I was sick," she said. "My daughter, being one, it affected her the worst, she was vomiting. My son actually fell over when he got out of bed."
She recalls laying on the floor thinking she had some sort of virus when her husband realized it may be carbon monoxide. He opened the windows and made the family sit outside in the car while they called the fire department.
Her family was treated at the hospital with oxygen and they were okay, but it is something they haven't forgotten. Her daughter knows all about the traumatic experience through stories they've told her.
The Kansas Department of Heath and Environment reports that children under the age of 5 are most likely to visit the hospital for a CO-related incident. Nationally, more than 25 kids die from CO poisoning a year.
Chief of Training at the Topeka Fire Department Jack Collie said TFD responded to 22 carbon monoxide calls in 2012. He says, thankfully, the number is declining.
"Hopefully that's due to awareness and folks just doing a better job."
Collie said it's important to realize the symptoms of CO poisoning. Like the Norths, people exposed to it will feel sick, like they have the flu. However, it should be more clear if it's affecting an entire family.
"If everybody in the house is affected by it, you really oughta get someone's attention. You need to call 911, the fire department can respond and do a survey for carbon monoxide in the atmosphere."
The first step in preventing a CO scare is to proof the home. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it may be easy to forget to turn off the oven. That is one of the causes of a carbon monoxide incident. Collie says to make sure to turn the oven off when not being used for cooking, never leave the car running in the garage, and check heating appliances (water heaters, space heaters, furnace, fireplace, etc.).
Carbon monoxide build-up is caused by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas, that is found in many heating appliances. CO is colorless and odorless.
"The best way to make sure you don't have those problems is if you can have regular service calls, particularly when you start up the heating season," Collie said.
Collie recommends those buying a CO detector to install it according to the manufacturer's instructions. Installing a detector right next to a vent or furnace would do no good. The rules for owning a smoke alarm hold true for owning a CO detector - change the batteries each year and keep up with it.
The North family have two CO detectors that are both electric and battery-powered. They plug into the wall, and if the power goes out, for example, it is backed up with a battery.
"They're so inexpensive and it's just worth it," North said. "It's the most important thing to have if you own a home."
As a realtor, North says she gives her clients a carbon monoxide detector to install in their homes so she doesn't have to worry about a scare happening to them.
She thinks back to the day of their scare, and is thankful her kids are alive.
"It was devastating at the time and then once I knew they were both going to be fine, reality hit in - I need to make sure that we get one."
Carbon monoxide detectors can be purchased anywhere from Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, Target and other stores online.
They sell for $20 on up.