Just as important as a properly-working smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector is an essential factor in your home's safety regime. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can form in both natural and artificial environments. But high levels of CO can be extremely toxic, and deadly, to both humans and animals. This is why it is important to understand the dangers of CO and how to help protect against it.
According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, thousands of cases of CO exposure require emergency treatment each year. It's estimated that CO poisoning causes 170 deaths per year in the United States alone. Because CO is impossible to smell, taste, or see, many of these cases occur before a person is aware of the gas in their home.
Where does Carbon Monoxide come from?
As previously mentioned, CO can be formed in both natural and artificial (or man-made) environments. Around the house, some of he most common producers of CO include portable generators, fireplaces, burning charcoal, and malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters, etc. But these are just a few ways that CO can be introduced into your home.
Since CO is a naturally occurring gas much like radon, homeowners should expect some natural level of CO in their home. The EPA reports that the natural level of CO in a home averages about 0.5-5 parts per million (PPM). At this level, a CO detector would not detect CO since it does not pose a threat to the home's inhabitents.
What are the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning?
Carbon Monoxide poisoning can be deadly. The effects of CO can vary drastically, dependent drastically on one's age, health, and length of exposure. At lower levels of exposure, CO can cause milder symptoms often mistaken for the flu: headache, fatigue, dizziness, etc. Other symptoms might include chest pain and confusion. Higher levels of CO exposure can lead to unconciousness or death if not properly treated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides several informative resources where you can read more about the signs and symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning,
How can I protect my family and my home from Carbon Monoxide?
Some level of CO in a home is a natural occurrence, but there are essential steps you can take to keep those CO levels low. The most important thing any homeowner can do is make sure that CO detectors are installed in the home and functioning properly. Since 2009, the State of Oregon has required "the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in specific residential applications with a carbon monoxide source." You can read more about the requirements here.
Carbon Monoxide detectors function similarly to smoke detectors. They check the surrounding environment for CO levels overtime and sound an alarm before dangerous levels are reached. Most CO detectors are battery operated and retail between $15 and $60, depending on where you purchase them.
How else can you help keep the CO levels in your home low?
- Always keep gas appliances properly adjusted and in working order
- Purchase and use only VENTED space heaters in your home
- Don't idle a car inside the garage
- Generators should ALWAYS be operated outdoors
- Have central heating systems inspected, cleaned, and tuned up routinely
If you are unsure about your home's CO detectors, ask your Inspections Unlimited inspector to point them out during your next home inspection. It is essential to double-check that your detectors have fresh batteries, are working properly, and meet the minimum standards to help keep you and your family safe.