Carbon monoxide is a leading cause of accidental poisoning in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 400 U.S. residents die of carbon monoxide poisoning each year. The same report found that over 100,000 Americans visit medical emergency rooms for carbon monoxide incidents unrelated to fires, and over 14,000 of these incidents require hospitalizations. Given the widespread danger of carbon monoxide, it is imperative to set up the right devices to protect your home and family. A comprehensive look at the importance of carbon monoxide detectors can provide the best insight on how to safeguard your household.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a scentless, tasteless, and colorless gas that results from the partial or incomplete combustion of fuel. This poisonous gas is often called an “invisible” or “silent” killer because it is virtually undetectable without the help of proper equipment like carbon monoxide detectors. The chemical formula of carbon monoxide is CO, and this formula reflects its molecular structure of a single carbon atom and oxygen atom held together via a triple bond. Fuels that can produce the by-product of carbon monoxide include gas, wood, propane, and charcoal. Appliances, devices, or engines that are defective or lack sufficient ventilation or exhaust can cause rapid CO accumulation. In addition, fuels that burn within compact or enclosed areas can also cause deadly CO buildup.
What Are Common Sources of Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide can come from a variety of objects in our everyday lives. Common sources include everything from heaters and ovens to vehicles left running in an attached garage.
Gas appliances like furnaces, stoves, ovens, water heaters, or boilers can represent a significant source of carbon monoxide. This is especially true if the device has a defective part such as a cracked heat exchanger. Poorly ventilated gas appliances can also cause CO buildup. Regular maintenance of gas-burning appliances can help reduce the risk of dangerous CO levels.
Wood-burning ovens, stoves, or fireplaces can also produce carbon monoxide due to the likelihood of incomplete combustion. Blocked chimneys or flues connected to fireplaces can also cause CO buildup. If you own a wood-burning structure, proper ventilation and maintenance are both essential to prevent the accumulation of CO gas.
Generators and Portable Heaters
Standby generators and space heaters often burn gasoline, propane, or diesel for fuel. Without proper ventilation, these types of fuel can release CO gas. Never use a backup generator indoors or in enclosed spaces. Fuel-burning or propane lanterns can have a similar effect, so it is important to use these tools in well-ventilated spaces.
Lawn equipment like grills or power tools can burn charcoal, gas, or propane. Since charcoal is a major source of carbon monoxide, you should never attempt to use an outdoor grill inside of your kitchen. Follow proper maintenance for appliances like gas dryers or mowers and replace them if they have become defective.
Smoking indoors can also increase the likelihood of CO exposure. Tobacco smoke contains carbon monoxide. Once accumulated indoors, this secondhand smoke can put all household occupants at risk.
The smoke from a vehicle’s exhaust contains carbon monoxide as well as other toxic substances. Without adequate ventilation, this exhaust can cause significant poisoning. Avoid the temptation to “warm up” your vehicle by leaving it running in an enclosed garage.
What Are the Potential Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
When an individual inhales carbon monoxide, the chemical enters the bloodstream and attaches to the protein hemoglobin in red blood cells. This binding process forms a compound known as carboxyhemoglobin. The compound prevents the transport of oxygen to vital organs and tissues throughout the body. This causes oxygen deprivation and can eventually lead to permanent organ damage, coma, or death.
What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?
Since carbon monoxide is undetectable to the five human senses, many people do not realize they have been exposed until it is too late. However, possible signs of CO poisoning may include the following:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, disorientation, blurred vision
- Impaired breathing
- Excessive drowsiness
- Loss of muscle control or coordination
- Unconsciousness or coma
Why Are Carbon Monoxide Detectors Important?
Carbon monoxide detectors provide peace of mind by protecting your family from the potentially fatal consequences of CO poisoning. These devices provide an early warning to prevent long-term exposure and help homeowners comply with local or municipal laws.
Early detection of carbon monoxide is crucial for personal safety. According to the CDC, the highest concentrations of CO exposure can kill a person within five minutes. Carbon monoxide detectors monitor the air for traces of the gas and can sound the alarm in the event of buildup or leaks. This can give your family the chance to evacuate the home, ventilate the affected area, and contact emergency services to prevent further spread of the poisonous gas.
Compliance With Safety Regulations
Numerous municipalities require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors within residential properties. By installing a CO detector, your household can remain compliant and avoid potential legal consequences or fines.
How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?
Modern carbon monoxide detectors use advanced technology to identify deadly levels of CO in the air and ensure a livable environment. This technology includes sensors and sirens as well as advanced power or display options.
Most carbon monoxide detectors employ one of two types of sensor technology: electrochemical sensing or metal-oxide semiconductor sensing. As the name implies, electrochemical sensors use electrodes to identify poison in the air. The ions in the electrodes react to the carbon in CO. This reaction produces an electrical current that converts into an audible electric alarm. In semiconductor sensors, carbon monoxide changes the conductivity of the metal-oxide strip, and this alternation signals the audible alarm.
Once sensor technology triggers the alarm, a carbon monoxide detector can produce a piercing siren, flashing red lights, or a combination of both. This helps alert all occupants so they can evacuate the home.
Conventional detectors employ battery-powered operation. This allows the detector to work even in the event of a power outage. Some detectors also have standby power sources like built-in backup batteries. Others can connect directly to the home electrical system.
Display and Indicators
Scientists measure carbon monoxide levels in parts per million (ppm). Many modern devices have digital displays that show real-time measurements of CO concentration within the air. This helps you notify a professional if the concentrations seem high for prolonged periods of time. Other models can also display helpful low-battery warnings or installation-error alerts.
Placement and Installation
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors at each level of the home near sleeping areas. This can protect all residents during the day and night. A professional may also install a detector near common CO sources such as heating systems or major appliances.
What Are Different Types of Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
Modern technology has expanded the types of CO detectors available on the market. A trained electrician can help you select the carbon monoxide detector that works best for your household.
These detectors use either disposable or rechargeable batteries. While they are straightforward and easy to install, it is important for a technician to replace batteries and check the devices during routine maintenance sessions.
Electricians can install hardwired carbon monoxide detectors directly into your house’s electrical system. Most hardwired systems are interconnected, meaning that one carbon monoxide detection will allow all devices to sound the alarm.
Combination alarms can detect fire smoke as well as carbon monoxide. These devices are useful in kitchens and other places susceptible to both fires and CO leaks.
Smart detectors connect to the home WiFi network. These devices often come with downloadable smartphone apps that send alerts or notifications if carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels within the home.
What Are the Best Maintenance Practices for Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
In addition to professional installation, all carbon monoxide detectors require regular testing and maintenance. An electrician can perform model-specific tests to ensure the device is operational and provide troubleshooting as needed.
Contact Us Today
Carbon monoxide detectors help protect your family from the effects of a life-threatening, poisonous gas. Finch Home Solutions provides CO detector installation for homes in Shakopee, MN and surrounding areas. We provide carbon monoxide detector testing, rewiring, repair, or upgrades. We can also help with general smoke alarm installation and surge protection, and our electricians can service your panels or circuit breakers. Contact Finch Home Solutions today for all electric needs.