Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious problem. Malfunctioning water heaters, gas or oil furnaces, gas refrigerators, and gas clothes heaters can potentially produce carbon monoxide, which can be fatal. Worse still, carbon monoxide 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. CO is slightly lighter than air and tends to rise. For this reason, carbon monoxide detector placement is important. The EPA recommends placing detectors on a wall about five feet above the floor or at eye level.
Carbon monoxide 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. Carbon monoxide attacks the body when you inhale it, and it bonds with hemoglobin much easier than just oxygen, rendering that hemoglobin cell useless as it can no longer transfer oxygen needed for life to the organs.
Gradual oxygen deprivation is very dangerous, as it will cause no pain or severe discomfort, but can 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 or attached garage is, for some reason, filling with carbon monoxide and if it is safe for you and your family to reside inside.
How Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Work?
A carbon monoxide (CO) detector operates differently from most smoke alarms. While some smoke alarms use ionization technology, most CO alarm detectors typically employ electrochemical, biomimetic, or metal oxide semiconductor technologies to detect the presence of carbon monoxide in the air. These technologies work by sensing changes in electrical currents or chemical reactions triggered by the presence of CO. When CO is present at levels higher than normal, the change in the sensor triggers the alarm. The detector then emits a loud chirping sound and displays the detected CO concentration. Upon hearing this alarm, it’s crucial to immediately evacuate the area and call for assistance, as exposure to high levels of CO can be dangerous.
Modern carbon monoxide detectors can pick up minuscule amounts of carbon monoxide and the recommendation is to use only carbon monoxide alarms and detectors that can detect the smallest amounts of CO, as much as you can afford.
Long-term exposure to small amounts of carbon monoxide gas can be as detrimental as short-term exposure. In children, exposure to carbon monoxide can arrest development, cause illness through diminished immunity, and even cause organ problems for the liver, the lungs, and the brain. Placing a carbon monoxide detector in the sleeping areas of your home can prevent harm 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.
How to Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Installing a carbon monoxide detector is very straightforward. Different homes will have different needs and what is best for one room in one home layout might not be the best choice for another. For example, if your home has an open-space plan versus smaller rooms on multiple floors.
Before putting your carbon monoxide 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 and if it is working.
Once you’re sure that the carbon monoxide 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 carbon monoxide 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 unit 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
It’s important to understand that the placement of a carbon monoxide detector can affect its effectiveness. While carbon monoxide has a slightly lower density than air, it can still mix with air and doesn’t exclusively rise like smoke. Therefore, a CO detector can be effective both on the ceiling and at eye level. However, placing detectors at eye level can be advantageous as it allows easier viewing of the display panel, which indicates carbon monoxide levels in your home. Immediate evacuation is crucial if CO is detected.
Ideally, a carbon monoxide detector should be installed in or near every sleeping area of your home. At a minimum, ensure there is a detector on every floor, including the basement. In homes with multiple bedrooms spread across a floor, consider installing a detector near the door of each sleeping area to ensure comprehensive coverage. Placing detectors in hallways leading to bedrooms can help monitor the air coming from these areas.
Avoid placing carbon monoxide detectors near sources of combustion, such as solid fuel burners, water heaters, or in kitchens, as these locations can lead to false alarms due to temporary and normal emissions of CO. Also, avoid placing detectors in isolated corners or areas with poor airflow, as this can hinder their ability to detect carbon monoxide effectively. Remember to include detectors in areas like basements and garages, as these are common sites for CO buildup, and it’s essential to detect any presence of carbon monoxide early to prevent exposure.
Choose the CO Detector Most Appropriate for Your Home
Depending on the layout of your home, you should choose a carbon monoxide detector that will not interfere with 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 a combination of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors can be a good option for smaller homes or condos, they will never be as sophisticated as the models that directly detect one or the other. For larger homes, it is best to use designated smoke and carbon monoxide 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 carbon monoxide 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 often as you check your smoke detectors, typically on the first day of every month.
What to Do When a CO Detector Goes Off
Once there is a significant amount of carbon monoxide 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 who will assist you in reducing the levels of carbon monoxide 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. Even 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, your water heater, gas stoves, any other 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.