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Primer: All About Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, which is present in low levels in the air and produced when fossil fuels are burned. When inhaled, high levels of carbon monoxide can cause "dizziness, mental confusion, severe headaches, nausea, and fainting on mild exertion," but it can ultimately result in unconsciousness, permanent brain damage, and death. It may enter your home through fireplaces, heaters, hot water heaters, gas stoves and ovens, cars running in attached garages, grills (propane, gas or charcoal), kerosene heaters, and dryers with clogged ductwork. It's known as the silent killer because about 200 people die each year from it, not knowing that they're inhaling it. So it is important to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, which sound an alarm if elevated levels are found, allowing you a chance to properly ventilate the area or safely leave your house. I've outlined several things you should know about carbon monoxide and detectors, so you can comfortably choose one for your home,


  • The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that you purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors labeled UL 2034, which means they've met the requirements of the new Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. standard, which has a greater safety margin.
  • Although they work similarly to smoke detectors, by monitoring CO levels in your home and sounding an alarm when detected, they do not function as smoke detectors, and vice versa. So to be safe, you must have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors or a combo smoke/CO detector.
  • There are three basic sensor types on a carbon monoxide detector; electrolytic, colorimetric and metal oxide semiconductor sensors, but they all have the same results.
  • If an alarm sounds, you should immediately evacuate everyone from your home, leaving a door or two open to ventilate, and then call a professional or 911. Don't try to determine the source of the CO yourself.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions when installing your detector. Test the alarm once a month and replace batteries according to instructions. Some will work for 2 years, others 5, so replace them accordingly, by reading product details.
  • If you know you won't remember to replace the batteries of your detector, get one that plugs into an outlet, but do not plug it into an outlet that's controlled by a switch.
  • Place your detector about five feet off the floor on a wall away from any heat generators and near your sleeping space, with at least one on each floor.
  • While a carbon monoxide detector is an important protection against CO poisoning, it's also important to make sure that all of your fuel-burning appliances work properly so they don't leak CO to begin with. So, have them inspected annually, or when any problems arise.


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