Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the “invisible killer”. It is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that is near impossible to identify without a proper detector. It is caused by fuels not burning completely, including wood, gasoline, coal, propane, natural gas, gasoline, and heating oil. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
CO alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that one CO alarm be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home. CO alarms may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall. Hard wired or plug-in CO alarms should have battery backup. Avoid locations that are near heating vents or that can be covered by furniture or draperies. CPSC does not recommend installing CO alarms in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances.
CO detectors do not last forever! Typically, if a detector is over 2-years old, it should be replaced every 5-7 years. Some new hardwired units now have batteries that last the life of the detector (10-years). On these units, you do not replace the battery, you replace the unit. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. Date codes can be found on the back of the unit.
Chuck retired from an engineering management career to start a home inspection business