What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and How To Prevent It
Most people have no idea what carbon monoxide is, where it comes from or how it kills over 500 people every year in the United States. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that attaches itself to the blood cells and deprives the major organs of oxygen. If exposed to high levels, it can kill a person within a few hours.
This is precisely the reason why it’s been called the “silent and invisible killer.” In this guide, we will be going over the types of detectors you can choose from, how to maintain your sensors, and the proper actions to take if it goes off.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is a byproduct of burning all types of fuels, including gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene, oil, and wood.
These fuels are commonly found in cars or other types of engines, fireplaces, wood stoves, space heaters that burn kerosene, appliances such as ovens, water heaters, gas furnaces, dryers, portable generators, power washers.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Our cells and organs require oxygen to function, and the protein hemoglobin is assigned the task of delivering oxygen to our cells. Under normal conditions, when we breathe in clean air, oxygen molecules attach themselves to the hemoglobin and move around the body for the cells to consume the oxygen.
When carbon monoxide enters the body, it prevents the oxygen molecules from attaching to the hemoglobin because CO can attach itself 200 times easier than oxygen.
CO displaces the oxygen by attaching itself to the hemoglobin and does not allow the cells in our body to get the oxygen they need to function, and when our organs are deprived of oxygen, they stop working.
What are the dangerous levels of carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is measured by ppm (parts per million), so 50 ppm means that for every million particles of air, 50 of them are carbon monoxide particles.
|50 ppm||None for healthy adults. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), this is the maximum allowable concentration for continuous exposure for healthy adults in an eight-hour period.|
|200 ppm||Slight headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea after two to three hours of exposure.|
|400 ppm||Frontal headaches with one to two hours. Life-threatening after three hours of exposure.|
|800 ppm||Dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 minutes. Unconsciousness within two hours. Death within two to three hours.|
|1000 ppm||Headache, dizziness, and nausea within 20 minutes. Death within one hour.|
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
The symptoms are similar to the flu. A victim of carbon monoxide will feel dizziness, headaches, stomach aches, chest pain, vomiting, and confusion. After breathing too much carbon monoxide, the victim will pass out and eventually die.
Carbon monoxide poisoning treatment.
Unless you have read up on CO poisoning and its effects on the body, the only way to know that you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning is if you have CO detectors. Otherwise, you might think you have the flu or are just feeling ill.
If your CO detectors start going into alarm, you must leave the house immediately to get fresh air and call 911.
Get to the hospital as soon as possible and let them know that you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning so that they can start treatment as quickly as possible.
You need to breathe in pure oxygen.
When you get to the emergency room, you will need to breathe in pure oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth to help the oxygen get to your organs and tissues. If you are unconscious and can’t breathe on your own, then a machine will be used to breathe for you.
Pressurized oxygen chamber
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be needed in many cases. Breathing in pure oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber where the air pressure is two to three times greater than normal air pressure will speed up the replacement of carbon monoxide in your blood with oxygen.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used in severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning to protect the brain and heart tissue, which is vulnerable to CO poisoning. It may also be used with pregnant women because unborn babies are much more susceptible to organ damage from carbon monoxide poisoning.
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
You can easily prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by installing the proper number of carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home or business.
Early detection can prevent someone from passing out, typically the point of no return if the person is alone with no help to get to the emergency room.
√ Ensure your gas-burning appliances are properly vented, venting on your furnace, and water heaters should be vented on an upward angle to prevent the gases from escaping through joints that are not fitted tightly.
√ Never use your oven to heat the house on a cold day.
√ Have your chimney cleaned every year.
√ Do not use kerosene space heaters inside your home.
√ Never use propane camping stoves indoors.
√ Never use portable generators inside your garage.
√ Move the portable generator as far away from your house as possible.
√ When power washing your home, keep the power washer as far as possible from your home.
What are the different types of carbon monoxide detectors?
Battery operated stand-alone CO detectors
- Easy to install, only need two screws and they can be mounted on the wall or on the ceiling.
- Battery operated CO detectors are the least expensive out of all the other types of detectors mentioned below.
- These types of sensors cost between $25 to $65.
- Battery operated CO detectors can be installed by the homeowner without the need to hire an electrician.
- Standard battery-operated CO detectors only sound an alarm at the detector that has sensed the carbon monoxide, someone on the far end of the house may not hear a sensor that is sounding in the basement.
- Not being able to hear the alarm can be dangerous especially at night because a victim to carbon monoxide will fall asleep and never wake up.
Battery operated interconnected CO detectors
- Just like standard battery-operated CO detectors, these sensors are easy to install with just two screws, mounted either on the wall about four to six feet off the ground or on the ceiling.
- Slightly more expensive than a standard battery-operated CO detector but not as expensive as the other types of sensors mentioned below.
- These types of sensors cost between $25 to $75.
- Because all of the sensors communicated with one another wirelessly, a sensor that detects carbon monoxide will also sound an alarm on all the other sensors on the same network.
- Can be replaced by the homeowner without the need to hire an electrician when the sensors expire.
- The need to change the battery every 6 to 12 months but that is normal for most CO detectors.
110-volt Hardwired Co detectors with battery backup
- Hard-wired CO detectors are also inter-connected or wired in tandem meaning that when one sensor detects carbon monoxide all of the other CO detectors also sound an alarm to warn you that there is carbon monoxide detected somewhere in the house.
- Hard-wired CO detectors are powered from your homes electrical wiring so you’re are not completely dependent on batteries for the main source of power.
- Hard-wired CO detectors must be installed by a licensed electrician so the cost will be much high than battery-operated units, costs approximately $150 to $250 depending on the number of detectors installed and the degree of difficulty of the installation.
- Hard-wired CO sensors still require a battery for backup in case there is a power outage so the same schedule of 6 to 12-month battery replacement applies to these sensors.
- The sensors need to be replaced by a licensed electrician once they expire because the wiring is 110 volts AC
Low-voltage CO detectors, connected to your security system
- My favorite type out of all the options listed here because low voltage CO detectors tie into your home security system and alert the central monitoring center when any one of the sensors detects a high level of carbon monoxide.
- The alarm company will then dispatch the fire department even if you fall asleep and don’t hear the alarms.
- With an optional home automation service for your security system, you can get alerts on your smartphone whenever carbon monoxide is detected making these CO detectors a smart sensors.
- Low voltage CO detectors get their power from your home’s security control panel so there are no batteries inside the CO sensors that need replacing, the only battery that needs to be replaced is the battery inside the security control panel every three to four years.
- Low voltage CO detectors must be installed and maintained by your alarm company unless you have a DIY (do it yourself) security system that you installed yourself.
- More expensive than battery operated units but approximately the same price as hard-wired CO detectors installed by an electrician, cost of about $150 to $250 per sensor.
Smoke/ CO combination detector
- Smoke and CO combination detectors are available in battery operated and hard-wired versions.
- Available in stand-alone or interconnected models, for both battery operated and hard-wired versions.
- Available in low voltage to connect to your home security system.
- You don’t need to have two separate sensors on your walls or ceilings.
- I can’t think of any
Smart CO detectors alert you on your smartphone
- Smart Co detectors are also available in smoke and CO combination versions.
- Get alerts on your smartphone whenever smoke or carbon monoxide is detected. This is a great feature for people who have pets at home
- Available in battery operated and hard-wired versions.
- Interconnecting feature on battery and hard-wired versions sound all of the detectors whenever one sensor detects carbon monoxide.
- You can check the status of the detector through the app on your smartphone.
- Alexa enabled: you can talk to Alexa through the speakers of the CO detector to play music and control other smart home devices.
- More expensive than the standard battery operated or hard-wired CO detectors, with a price range of $125 to $250.
Where should you install CO detectors?
I often get asked how many CO detectors should I buy and where they should be installed, and after I spend some time with the homeowner and tell them exactly how many they should purchase and where they should be installed, they go to the store and buy only one CO detector.
I understand that buying several CO detectors can be expensive, but this is no time to skimp on safety. At the very least, buy one CO detector for each floor of the house.
CO detector placement recommended by the experts:
- At least one CO detector on each floor.
- One in each bedroom.
- One in hallways outside every bedroom.
- One mounted 5 to 20 feet from any source of carbon monoxide producing appliances such as a gas or oil burning furnace, a hot water heater, gas stove, fireplace, or garage.
How high should CO detectors be installed?
Unlike smoke, carbon monoxide gas does not rise, and it also does not sink because CO is practically the same weight as air. CO’s molecular structure also enables it to mix very easily with air, so it mixes evenly with the airflow in your house.
I installed my carbon monoxide detectors in my house at a breathing height of about 5 to 6 feet from the floor, but you can also install them on the ceiling.
It’s best to follow the instructions included with the carbon monoxide detector.
In the instructions, you will find a diagram of where you should place the carbon monoxide detectors and how high you should mount them.
Do smoke alarms detect carbon monoxide?
Smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide unless they are a combination type detector. Smoke and carbon monoxide are completely different, and the sensors inside the detectors function differently to detect each event.
How do carbon monoxide detectors work?
Carbon monoxide detectors will set off an alarm when high enough traces of carbon monoxide are detected in the air over time.
CO detectors rated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) are required to sound within 15 minutes at 400ppm (parts per million), which means that for every million air particles, 400 of them are carbon monoxide molecules. This is equal to .04% of CO in the air.
On the flip side, CO detectors are also designed not to sound an alarm at small traces of CO caused by the normal operation of fuel-burning appliances.
Carbon monoxide levels that will set off your alarm
|ppm’s||The time it takes for CO detector to sound|
|40 ppm||Sounds the alarm after 10 hours|
|50 ppm||Sounds the alarm after 8 hours|
|70 ppm||Sounds the alarm after 1 to 4 hours|
|150 ppm||Sounds the alarm after 10 to 50 minutes|
|400 ppm||Sounds the alarm after 4 to 15 minutes|
Where should you buy CO detectors?
Carbon monoxide detectors are available at just about any hardware and home improvement store, online stores, and from Amazon. Make sure to buy a quality name brand and one that is UL listed, such as Kidde, First Alert, Nest, and Ring.
Who installs CO detectors?
Hard-wired CO detectors must be installed by a licensed electrician, whether it’s for a new installation or the replacement of an existing unit because these types of sensors use your home’s electrical wiring for the primary source of power.
The benefits of installing carbon monoxide sensors by alarm companies are that the central monitoring center monitors them, and the fire department is dispatched when the detectors sense carbon monoxide.
There are two types of CO detectors installed by alarm companies. One is a low voltage, wired version, and the other is a wireless sensor that communicates with your security systems control panel.
The central monitoring center monitors both of these sensors, which is much better than a sensor that only sounds inside the house.
The fire department (usually for the elderly)
Some fire departments will come to your house and help you install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
This is usually done as a courtesy for seniors who can’t install the CO detectors themselves or do not have anyone to do it for them.
You can hire a handyman to install battery-operated CO detectors throughout your house for you, and some of them take on small electrical projects, so you can hire a handyman to install hard-wired CO sensors as well.
But I would leave that up to a licensed electrician since these sensors have to be interconnected, and I wouldn’t want to leave that up to a handyman that doesn’t specialize in electrical work.
How much does it cost to install CO detectors?
- Electrician, $150 – $250 each depending on the degree of difficulty of the installation and the number of sensors being installed.
- Alarm company $150 – $250 each depending on the degree of difficulty of the installation and the number of sensors being installed.
- The fire department, FREE
- A handyman, $50 – $100 an hour
How do you test your carbon monoxide detector?
Under normal conditions, most CO detectors will have a green blinking light every 30 seconds. This is an indication the sensor has power and is in standby mode.
All CO detectors have a test button. The test button lets you know that the sensor is powered, and it also tests the internal circuit of the unit, but it does not prove whether or not it can detect carbon monoxide.
My favorite way of testing my CO detectors is to use a can of CO. These aerosols spray a small amount of carbon monoxide, and they are specially made for this type of testing. I spray it into the sensor and wait for it to go into alarm. This way, I know for sure that the unit is working properly.
What happens when you test the CO detector?
- Stand-alone battery-operated sensors, the detector will start a repeating pattern of beeping four times and then a pause. This beeping pattern can last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds depending on the model of the sensors. This indicates that the battery is good, and the detector is operational.
- Interconnected battery operated sensors that are connected through a wireless link will also repeat the same beeping pattern but because they are all interconnected or communicate with one another, they will sound all of the other sensors throughout the house. This beeping test pattern normally lasts between 10 to 30 seconds.
- Hard-wired CO detectors, you will hear the same beeping pattern. If you have more than one hard-wired CO detector, chances are that they will be interconnected, meaning that when on goes into alarm all of the other sensors in the house will also go into alarm to warn everyone that there is a threat of carbon monoxide in the house.
- Low voltage sensors connected to a home security system, make sure you contact your alarm company and tell them that you will be performing a test before testing CO detectors connected to your security system. Testing these units is the same as testing any other type of CO detector except that they also send a signal to the monitoring center.
- Smart CO detectors, smart CO detectors like Ring, Nest, and One link provide a user interface through an app on your smartphone to give you the status of the sensor such as the battery life or whether or not the sensor has reached its expiration.
Do carbon monoxide detectors expire?
Carbon monoxide detectors do not last forever, some of the older units expire after only five years, but the newer sensors last up to ten years now. The life expectancy of the CO detector will be written on the packaging and the back of the unit.
Some CO detectors come with a non-replaceable battery, so when the battery is dying, the detector will go into trouble to alert you that it’s time to replace the sensor.
How do I know if my CO detector is expired?
Most carbon monoxide detectors have the expiration written either on the front or back of the sensor, but some models don’t have any date written on them at all.
Instead, you find a sticker on the side of the unit where you have to write down the purchase date and the expiration date according to the original packaging.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know they have to do this, causing the detector to expire without anyone knowing about it. However, carbon monoxide detectors have a built-in feature that warns you when the sensor has expired.
The typical warning that the carbon monoxide detector is expired is two quick chirps every 60 seconds on some sensors or a single chirp every 60 seconds on others.
A single chirp every 60 seconds is also similar to a warning that the detector has a low battery. You’ll know that it’s time to replace the CO detector if the sensor keeps chirping after you replace the battery.
How often should I replace the batteries in my CO detector?
You should replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors at least twice a year. To make it easier to remember, some people change the batteries twice a year during daylight savings when you have to change the time on your clocks.
New carbon monoxide detectors have a 10-year battery that is not replaceable. The battery is not replaceable because the carbon monoxide detector itself expires and is useless after ten years.
What type of batteries do you need for CO detectors?
Carbon monoxide detectors use 9 Volt batteries or (AA) batteries. These batteries are standard and can be purchased online through Amazon or any hardware store.
Why is my carbon monoxide detector beeping or chirping?
Carbon monoxide detectors will beep or chirp for various reasons. A chirping sound indicates a trouble condition while beeping sounds with certain patterns indicate an alarm condition.
Most CO detectors have similar trouble indicating patterns but always check with your sensors instructions manual.
Chirping sounds indicate a trouble
- A chirping sound every 60 seconds indicates a low battery.
- A double chirping sound every 60 seconds indicates that the CO detector has expired or reached the end of life and needs to be replaced. Some CO detectors will have the expiration date on the back of the unit while other sensors will only have the date the sensor was manufactured.
- A chirping sound every 30 seconds indicates that there is a fault or malfunction with the sensor and is in need of replacement.
Beeping sounds indicate an alarm
- A pattern of four quick loud beeps followed by a three-second pause indicates that the sensor has detected high levels of carbon monoxide, this is called a temporal-4 pattern and is only used for Carbon monoxide detectors.
- Some CO detectors produce a temporal-4 pattern followed by a voice announcement that CO has been detected.
- A similar temporal-3 pattern is used by smoke detectors which sounds three loud half second beeps followed by a one and a half second pause.
What to do if your CO detector starts beeping?
If your CO detectors start going into alarm, then you must leave the house immediately and call the fire department to come over and perform a CO test.
You need to go to the emergency room you are experiencing any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Let them know that you have been exposed to carbon monoxide so that they can start treatment for CO poisoning.
How long does it take for a CO detector to sense carbon monoxide?
As stated above, a UL-listed CO detector must sound an alarm within 15 minutes after sensing 400ppm of carbon monoxide, that is, 400 carbon monoxide particles for every million air particles.
This is why it is so important to have an adequate number of CO detectors installed throughout your home for early detection. Having only one CO detector in your house can cause you to be exposed to CO for a long time before that one sensor detects the poisonous gas.
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