AUGUSTA — Look outside.

How deep is the snow around your house?

As we watch the snow cover get deeper with every storm, we are also seeing a growing number of carbon monoxide poisonings across Maine because the vents that allow potentially poisonous gas to escape from the home are blocked by all that snow. Check these vents and make sure they are clear. This simple step may save your life.

Here’s another potentially life-saving step – make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home. A carbon monoxide detector alerts you to the presence of this gas before it builds to deadly levels. Did you know that Maine law requires carbon monoxide detectors in all rental units, as well as homes that are new construction, recently sold, or undergoing a major renovation?

Nearly two of every five homes in Maine still don’t have this basic, low-cost safety device, according to the Maine Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. We know from following up on every report of a carbon monoxide poisoning since 2008 that carbon monoxide detectors save lives and offer residents peace of mind.

Winter is when we see the most carbon monoxide poisonings. People are poisoned while working on engines in enclosed spaces, improperly running portable generators when the power goes out, and from faulty furnaces and gas appliances.

Every carbon monoxide poisoning is completely avoidable if certain safety steps are followed. Be sure to have your heating system serviced, do not leave engines running in enclosed spaces and plan for how you will safely operate a generator when the power goes out.

Improper use of generators is especially concerning. There have been four generator-related deaths in Maine over the past several years, and nearly 20 percent of all confirmed carbon monoxide poisonings are generator-related.

One generator makes as much carbon monoxide as found in the exhaust of 100 cars, and it only takes a few minutes for a generator to fill an enclosed structure with a lethal amount of carbon monoxide. You would never want 100 cars left running in a garage or close to your windows and doors. Operating a generator in a garage, barn doorway or on a basement bulkhead is very risky – especially if the wind blows the doors shut.

Generators must be placed at least 15 feet away from windows and doors, with the exhaust directed away from the home. Placing your generator at a safe distance can be difficult, if not impossible, during a storm. Having a way to keep the generator protected from the weather can also be a challenge after the power goes out, so it’s best to plan ahead.

Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and offers no advanced warning to tell you it is there. That’s why all of these safety precautions are necessary.

Carbon monoxide is formed from nearly all combustion sources (generators, gas stoves, kerosene and propane heaters, engines), and it interferes with how oxygen moves from our lungs to the rest of our body. Without enough oxygen, we won’t live very long. Survivors of carbon monoxide poisonings often suffer brain and heart damage, or other effects such as loss of memory, balance problems, anxiety or sleeping problems.

We can all play a part in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. Remind your friends, neighbors and family to clear snow from exhaust vents, help those who may not be able to clear vents on their own. Ask if they have a carbon monoxide detector in their home and encourage them to have a plan for how to operate a generator safely.

Local businesses can spread the word, too. At least one fuel company sent out an email alert to their customers about the importance keeping heating vents cleared of snow, while some stores put carbon monoxide detectors near generators for sale.

Power companies routinely provide generator safety information, including how to protect their linemen from electrical back-feed. Fire departments and other public safety officials continue to be very visible messengers. The Northern New England Poison Center has also been quick to sound the alarm when it sees increased calls about potential carbon monoxide in the aftermath of the recent snowstorms.

Let’s work together to stay safe for the rest of this winter.