With the heating season upon us, there are some things that we should all be aware of to help protect our families from carbon monoxide (CO). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) more than 400 people in the U.S. die each year due to carbon monoxide poisoning. It is also estimated that 15,000 more are taken to emergency rooms due to carbon monoxide and about 25% of those are hospitalized. The dangers of carbon monoxide are magnified by the fact that it is odorless, tasteless and colorless; therefore, it can kill or injure you without you even knowing that it is present in your home. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.
Carbon monoxide is produced by combustion appliances. A properly-operating appliance that is made for indoor use will discharge the combustion bi-products, including carbon monoxide, outside the home. However, an old or malfunctioning appliance can allow carbon monoxide to buildup in your home. In order to protect your family, you need to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide, and of some things that you can do to protect your family from the dangers of carbon monoxide. One of the simplest and most important things that you can do is to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Where Should You Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors? Install at least one UL-listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near or in the bedrooms. Place enough alarms in the home so that if they alarm, everyone in the home will be able to hear the alarm and be woken up by it. Install at least one alarm on each level of the home – including inside the basement. Also, place an alarm near the garage. It is best to not install the alarms within 15 feet of combustion appliances. If they are too close to a furnace, fireplace, etc., then it is possible to get a false alarm.
Battery-operated or battery-backup alarms are recommended. The reasoning for this is that during a severe snow or ice storm, if electricity is lost, many people will use a combustion appliance to heat their homes, and with no electricity, a non-battery-operated alarm will not work. Many home security companies also provide carbon monoxide detectors that tie into the home’s security system.
Carbon monoxide detectors work by measuring the level of carbon monoxide in the air over a period of time. This means that they are time weighted. It may take several hours to alarm if the CO levels in the home are only slightly elevated, but it will alarm much more quickly if the levels are dangerously high. Fifty parts per million (50 ppm) of carbon monoxide is considered a relatively safe level for eight hours of exposure to carbon monoxide. According to Kidde, a manufacturer of carbon monoxide alarms, it will take ten hours of exposure to 40 ppm carbon monoxide before the alarm will sound, but it will only take about eight minutes to sound if the carbon monoxide level in the home is at the dangerous level of 400 ppm.
What Should You Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off?
Be aware that it is possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear a CO alarm. This does NOT mean that carbon monoxide is not present. Carbon monoxide alarms are very sensitive and can detect low levels of carbon monoxide, so the alarm can detect the carbon monoxide before it has a noticeable effect on the health of someone in the home.
If your alarm sounds, DO NOT ignore it. There could be a dangerous level of carbon monoxide in your home. According to the Kidde website, here are the steps that you should take.
• Silence the alarm.
• Call 911.
• Move to fresh air – either outside or to an open window.
• Make sure everyone in the home has been accounted for.
• DO NOT re-enter the home until being told that it is safe to do so. This would be when the cause of the high carbon monoxide level has been corrected, the structure has been aired out, and the level of carbon monoxide levels have returned to a safe level.
Here are some additional steps to protect yourself from the dangers of carbon monoxide.
• Have all fuel-burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems checked at the beginning of each heating season to make sure that they are functioning and exhausting properly.
• Never use your stove or oven to help heat your home, and NEVER use a charcoal grill in your home or garage.
• Never keep a car running in a garage. Even with the garage doors open, normal circulation will not normally provide enough fresh air to prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
• When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the heating and cooking systems to ensure that they are operating properly.
• Have a family discussion about safety in general, and be sure to include what to do in the event that your carbon monoxide detector sounds.