Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious problem. Malfunctioning water heaters, gas or oil furnaces, gas refrigerators, and gas clothes heaters can potentially produce carbon dioxide, which can be fatal. Worse still, it is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas consisting of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. The biggest confusion when talking about carbon monoxide, usually referred to as CO, is its similarity in name with carbon-di (2)-oxide or CO2. Although both gases are bad to inhale for humans and animals, unsaturated CO is much more harmful and much harder to detect.
CO2, when in its gaseous form, is usually seen as smoke and when it is a solid it is called dry ice, but carbon monoxide can’t be tasted, seen, or smelled as it has the same properties as air, where oxygen is one of the main components and carbon is the most common trace element. CO is also the same density as air, meaning that it is irrelevant is you are sleeping downstairs or upstairs, it will mix with air without any preferential position.
Carbon monoxide attacks the body when you inhale it as it bonds with hemoglobin much easier than just oxygen and renders that hemoglobin cell useless as it can no longer transfer oxygen needed for life to the organs. Carbon dioxide poisoning is very gradual and can primarily show symptoms similar to the flu, but at larger doses, it can cause organ failure and death if fresh air is not introduced quickly.
As oxygen is used to power your body, gradual oxygen deprivation is very dangerous, as it will cause no pain or severe discomfort, but make humans and animals doze off to sleep and suffocate while unconscious. Currently, a CO detector is the only safe way to know if your house is, for some reason, filling with carbon monoxide and if it is safe for you and your family to reside inside.
How Does It Work?
A carbon monoxide detector alarm works on the same principle as smoke alarms, using microscopic amounts of radioactive material to determine if there is clean air passing through the detector. Now to go into the marvels of electromechanical engineering that most people take for granted, the microscopic radiation hits the nitrogen and oxygen in the air and makes a flowing current of power that keeps the detector off.
Once there is too much carbon monoxide in the air that stops the current and sounds off the alarm. Modern carbon dioxide detector alarms can pick up minuscule amounts of carbon monoxide and the recommendation is to use detectors that can detect the smallest amounts of CO, as much your budget and living circumstances will allow. Long-term exposure to small amounts of CO can be as detrimental as short-term exposure to large amounts.
Especially in children, exposure to carbon monoxide can arrest development, cause illness through diminished immunity and even cause organ problem for the liver, the lungs, and the brain. Placing a CO monitor in your home can prevent accidents from short-term exposure, but if you have constant levels of CO, you should consult with an expert to see what is happening and how can that situation be resolved.
Life in big cities also comes with the problem of having increased exposure to both carbon monoxide and CO2, and if you have small children, it is recommended for them to grow in less polluted areas. Once there are CO levels above the normal range, the CO alarm will sound a loud chirp and show the level of CO on the display. Once you hear the alarm, go outside immediately and call for assistance.
How To Install A Carbon Monoxide Detector
Installing a CO detector is a very straightforward affair. First of all, you will need to choose one of the CO detector models that are on the market. Different homes will have different needs and what is best for one layout of the home might not be the best for another. Before putting your detector on the wall, you need to put in the appropriate batteries, close the device and test it in your hand. Most models will have a test button on them, making it easy to determine if you have placed the batteries properly.
Once the detector works, you need to place it on the wall, ceiling, or in an electrical outlet, depending on the model. Installing the electrical outlet model is the easiest, as it is meant just to be plugged in. For all models, drill two holes in the wall corresponding to the size of the anchor on the CO detector and place two screws inside. Once the screws are in, slide in the CO detector on the wall and leave it there.
The ceiling type is the trickiest to install, but not harder than a smoke alarm and now there are even models that offer both smoke detection and CO detection. In most models, you will need to drill into the ceiling and place a screw in, and then slide the detector onto the screw. Make sure that the detector is placed securely, although it is not very heavy there is no need for it to fall on anyone’s head.
Where To Place Your CO Detector
There is a common misconception that a CO detector needs to be in some specific location to work properly. As CO is the same density as the air it can be in the same places like air and doesn’t rise up like smoke does. A CO detector on the ceiling will work just as well as a detector placed at eye height, which is the usual recommendation. The only advantage that an eye height detector has is that you will be able to see the display panel that shows the levels of CO in your home, but this could be done later, by a professional, as you shouldn’t be sightseeing once there is CO in your house.
If it is possible, you should have a CO detector wherever people sleep, in every room. If not, make sure you have one of them at least on every floor of your home and in the basement. Place them in the hallway where air flows from the sleeping areas, to be sure that there is no CO in any of the rooms. If you have bedrooms on the opposite sides of the same floor, you will need two detectors.
The only place you shouldn’t place your detector is near a solid fuel burner, the water heater or in the kitchen, as you can get false positives. Also, you shouldn’t place the detectors in the corners of the room, as they wouldn’t get enough airflow to detect all of the gasses in your house. Don’t forget the CO detector in the basement and in the garage, as these are the places that usually get a CO problem first and you shouldn’t expose yourself to it at any time.
Choose A CO Detector Appropriate For Your Home
Depending on the layout of your home, you should choose a Carbon monoxide detector that will not prevent you in your daily activities but will be in a position to make itself heard once it needs to be heard. When picking out a CO detector, you will have several options. While combination CO and smoke detectors can be a good option for smaller homes or condos, they will never be as sophisticated as the models that are directly detecting one or the other. For larger homes, it is best to use designated smoke and CO detectors, at least one per floor.
If your electrical outlets are in good positions and you have enough of them never to plug the CO detector out, you may use the models that work like this, but if you catch yourself taking out the detector to plug something else in, you should invest in a dedicated battery model. Most detectors now offer a ten-year warranty and this is probably the model you want as they are much more reliable. No matter the label advice, you should check your CO detectors as much you check your smoke detectors, meaning once a month.
What To Do When The Detector Goes Off
Once there is a significant amount of CO in your home, the alarm on the CO detector will emit a loud noise, usually a chirping sound, and inform you that you should leave the building. Don’t wait to check what is going on and don’t turn it off at any moment. Leave the building as soon as possible and make your family leave as well. Call 911 from your cell phone and calmly inform them about what is going on.
The emergency number will redirect you to a professional that will assist you in reducing the levels of CO in your home. Unlike a fire escape, there is no need to duck down or cover your face, as this only reduces your speed of movement. If you don’t feel nauseous, take your children and leave the premises. If it is possible, open the windows and doors from the outside to create a flow of clean air.
Once a professional arrives, point them to your heating valves, heating bodies, water heaters, and similar appliances that may be the cause of CO leaks. If the problem persists, it is much better to spend a few days at a hotel than to be exposed even to small amounts of CO, especially when there are children involved.