The Importance of Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Oct 25, 2020

Hundreds of Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Invisible but deadly, carbon monoxide leaks can occur due to a variety of household appliances and equipment — and many go unnoticed until it is too late. When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it can cause severe illness and even death.

The only reliable way to detect a carbon monoxide leak is with a carbon monoxide alarm. If your home or business does not have a carbon monoxide detector, you may be at serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Jump to: What Is Carbon Monoxide? | About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | About Carbon Monoxide Detectors | How Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work | Where to Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms | What to Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off | Other Precautions to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | Contact Us Today

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced any time fuel is burned. Any appliance powered by natural gas, kerosene, propane, charcoal, wood, or another fossil fuel has the potential to cause a deadly CO leak. Carbon monoxide fumes can leak into your home and cause serious illness when inhaled. Exposure to large amounts of carbon monoxide gas can even be deadly.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is produced by many common home appliances and equipment, making carbon monoxide poisoning a frequent occurrence. Here are a few sources of carbon monoxide that you may encounter in your home:

  • Oil and gas furnaces
  • Gas or propane stoves
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Gas or propane grills
  • Charcoal grills
  • Lawnmowers
  • Gas lanterns
  • Fireplaces
  • Space heaters
  • Gas-powered generators
  • Cars and trucks

When these appliances are operated safely and properly maintained, they are not likely to leak carbon monoxide. However, the improper use of equipment — or equipment that has not been properly maintained — can release CO into your home. Carbon monoxide leaks can also occur if appliances powered by fossil fuels are accidentally left running in the home or garage. A blocked chimney or gas line leak may cause CO to build up in the home, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The design of many modern homes includes insulation that blocks the flow of fresh air through the building. While this is great for keeping your home warm in the winter, the impacts of carbon monoxide leaks are often exacerbated and accelerated in homes that lack sufficient air flow.

About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If a person breathes in too much carbon monoxide gas, carbon monoxide poisoning can occur. When CO is inhaled, it enters the lungs and then easily transfers into the bloodstream. Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin in the blood and renders them incapable of transporting oxygen. The affected hemoglobin, now called carboxyhemoglobin, build up in the body and block oxygen flow to tissues and cells. When cells are deprived of their essential oxygen supply, they begin to die, imparting serious damage to the body and body systems.

Carbon monoxide poisoning produces symptoms most prominently in the body systems that require oxygen the most, including the heart and central nervous system. For this reason, the impacts of carbon monoxide poisoning are severe and sometimes fatal.

How quickly the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning occur depends on the concentration of CO in the air and how long a person is exposed to it. Most people will begin to experience the initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning when carbon monoxide levels in the air reach 70 ppm (parts per million). Symptoms will continue to worsen as the concentration of CO builds or their exposure continues. When levels increase to over 150 ppm, unconsciousness and death are a high possibility. The higher the levels of CO and the longer the exposure period, the more serious the impacts will be.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can impact anyone who is exposed to high carbon monoxide levels in the air, but those with pre-existing health conditions — such as respiratory problems or heart disease — have a greater risk of getting sick from a CO leak. In the United States, more than 20,000 people visit the emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning each year. Of those affected, more than 4,000 are hospitalized and about 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When a person is exposed to dangerous carbon monoxide levels, they will begin to show mild symptoms that quickly escalate to more severe consequences. Because the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning closely resemble flu symptoms and CO itself is odorless and colorless, many people do not know they have carbon monoxide poisoning until it is too late.

Knowing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can help you respond quickly in case of an emergency. Here are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in the common order of onset:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • General discomfort or feeling ill
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Disorientation or delirium
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

Some patients with severe carbon monoxide poisoning may also experience a very irregular heartbeat or seizures. Those with heart conditions may also experience increased chest pain as the first sign of carbon monoxide poisoning, sometimes even before CO levels reach 70 ppm.

If you suspect you are experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 immediately and inform emergency personnel that there may be a CO leak. Because carbon monoxide poisoning closely resembles flu symptoms, emergency visits for carbon monoxide poisoning can be misdiagnosed, leading to fatal consequences. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be confirmed with a non-invasive test using a CO-oximeter. This probe is placed on the patient's body to test the levels of CO in their blood.

Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Once carbon monoxide poisoning is confirmed, treatment typically involves inhaling pure oxygen through an oxygen mask. By increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, the damaging CO is flushed out. If a patient cannot breathe on their own or the oxygen treatment is not effective, they may receive oxygen through a ventilator. A patient with severe carbon monoxide poisoning may also be placed in a pressurized oxygen chamber, or hyperbaric oxygen chamber, to rapidly increase the oxygen levels in their blood. If symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are severe, such as arrhythmias or seizures, these may need to be treated directly as well.

Even minor exposures to carbon monoxide pose the risk of long-term or permanent complications, even after a patient has received treatment. Possible complications of carbon monoxide poisoning include brain damage, memory problems, dementia, partial loss of vision, speech impairment, depression, heart damage and organ damage.

About Carbon Monoxide Detectors

While some fatalities from carbon monoxide poisoning are caused by extreme events such as fires, the majority of deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning could have been prevented with the use of a carbon monoxide detector.

Because carbon monoxide cannot be seen or smelled, it is impossible to detect a carbon monoxide leak without an electronic gas leak detector. These effective alarms will alert you when the concentration of CO in the air reaches a dangerous level. Although carbon monoxide detectors are the single most effective way to prevent CO poisoning, they are often overlooked by parents and homeowners, thereby putting the entire family or household at risk.

How Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work

Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to emit an alarm when high levels of CO are detected but before they reach life-threatening levels. Regulated safety standards for CO detectors have been improved year after year to ensure their effectiveness.

Carbon monoxide alarms are most often battery-powered and use passive sensors that respond to prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide levels. Other models are available that can be hardwired directly into an electric system for larger commercial applications, or plugged into a regular electric outlet. However, electric CO alarms can consume a significant amount of power because they use a solid-state sensor that runs on a continuous cycle of sampling and purging.

Battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors are typically the best choice for homeowners, as they will continue to function during a power outage. During extended power outages, such as during a natural disaster, families often use gas grills to cook or portable generators to supply power. But even when used properly and placed outside the home, portable grills and fuel-burning generators pose the risk of a CO leak. By using a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector, families will always be alerted of dangerous CO leaks even when electricity is unavailable or unreliable.

If you are using a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector, be sure to check the batteries once or twice each year. High-quality carbon monoxide detectors will come with lithium batteries that last up to ten years. However, it is best to test your batteries periodically to make sure they are still in good condition. Batteries wear out over time, and a CO detector with dead batteries will be of no use in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.

A great way to remember to check or change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector is to do so when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. You should also test your CO alarm by using the test button to make sure the system is functioning properly.

Where to Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Homeowners should install at least one carbon monoxide detector on each floor of their house. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in the hallway near any bedrooms, with one detector for each separate sleeping area. If a carbon monoxide leak occurs while you are sleeping, the carbon monoxide alarm will wake you up before the situation becomes fatal. In the case of a carbon monoxide leak, evacuating quickly is extremely important.

CO detectors can also be placed near any appliances that burn fossil fuels, such as furnaces or heaters. Leaks can then be identified soon after they begin and then remedied quickly. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed on the ceiling or higher up the wall to be the most effective, and should never be placed behind curtains or furniture. Your carbon monoxide detector should come with manufacturer installation instructions that provide more specific details about where to place your CO alarm.

If you are unsure of the best locations for CO detectors in your home, consider a professional installation of your CO alarms. Expert staff from Certified Fire And Security would be glad to install your carbon monoxide alarms in strategic locations in your home for the most effective prevention against carbon monoxide poisoning.

What to Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off

what to do if your carbon monoxide detector goes off

If your carbon monoxide detector alarm goes off, everyone in the building should evacuate right away. Even if no one is experiencing symptoms, that does not mean there is not a threatening CO leak in your home. Because the best carbon monoxide detectors will indicate fairly low levels of carbon monoxide, your alarm may go off before anyone feels ill.

Resist the desire to locate the carbon monoxide leak yourself, and instead contact a professional technician to identify the problem. A trained technician will be able to ensure that all of your appliances are functioning properly to prevent future incidents. Any problems that are identified during the inspection should be repaired as soon as possible.

If anyone is experiencing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, seek medical treatment immediately. Never allow the affected person to drive themselves to the hospital, as their condition could worsen and cause them to lose consciousness while driving. Contact the fire department or emergency services to assess the situation. Re-enter your home only after it has been deemed safe by the emergency responders.

Other Precautions to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide detectors are the most effective way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. However, many other precautions can be taken as well to prevent carbon monoxide leaks in the first place. Here are a few preventative measures you can take when operating fuel-burning appliances in or around your home:

  • Have any fuel-burning equipment or appliances inspected regularly by a professional technician.
  • Make sure all fuel-burning equipment, stoves and fireplaces are properly vented.
  • Perform necessary repairs on fuel-burning equipment immediately and do not operate it unless you know it is working properly.
  • Never operate charcoal grills inside your home or garage, even with the garage door open. The lower air pressure inside your home can cause any CO produced in your garage to be drawn into your house.
  • Never operate any gas-powered equipment or vehicles inside your home or garage.
  • Do not run any vehicles in your garage with the garage door closed.
  • Do not heat your house with a gas oven.
  • Do not use a portable gas stove indoors.

Contact Certified Fire And Security

Installing a home carbon monoxide alarm is the only reliable way to detect a carbon monoxide leak before it is too late.

If you want to protect your family against deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, contact Certified Fire And Security today. Utah families and business owners can rely on our highly sensitive carbon monoxide gas detection systems to alert you of even low levels of carbon monoxide gas. When our trained safety and security engineers install your carbon monoxide detectors, they can assess your home to identify the ideal location for each alarm. Enjoy total protection right away with a quick and efficient carbon monoxide alarm installation.

Carbon monoxide detectors from Certified Fire And Security can even be linked to your mobile device so you will be alerted of a dangerous carbon monoxide leak in your home no matter where you are. We even offer an additional safety feature that automatically shuts down your HVAC system to prevent the spread of carbon monoxide gas if a leak occurs. Take complete control over your home's safety with sophisticated carbon monoxide alarms from Certified Fire And Security.

Contact Certified Fire And Security online or give us a call at 435.674.5700 for more information about the best carbon monoxide detectors or to schedule your installation. For a total fire system solution, ask about our other services, such as fire detection and smoke detection. Take the next step to protect your family against carbon monoxide poisoning today. We serve St. George, Salt Lake City, and the rest of Utah, as well as locations throughout Nevada, with our fire solutions.

Related Resources:

Creating a Fire Escape Plan

Gas Detection Systems from Certified Fire And Security Systems

Fire Protection Services for Homes and Businesses


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