What You Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide


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Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that claims the lives of hundreds of people in the United States each year — and many more experience severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Although sublethal amounts of CO exist in just about every home, there’s always a risk that it could rise to dangerous levels. Because humans are unable to detect carbon monoxide with their senses, we are often unaware of CO poisoning until it’s too late.

What Causes Excessive CO Levels in a Home?

Carbon monoxide gas is a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of the carbon-containing fuels found in many home heating and HVAC units. When these systems are functioning correctly, the CO gas will be drawn away and pose no danger to people. However, a poorly maintained or malfunctioning heating/cooling system can produce lethal amounts of CO. A home or room lacking sufficient ventilation can also prevent CO from escaping to the outside.

Automobile exhaust systems are another common source of carbon monoxide gas. Consequently, CO poisoning can occur when someone sits inside a running automobile parked inside a garage with the door closed.

How Does Carbon Monoxide Get Released in a Home?

There are several ways CO can get released inside a home. For example, improperly installed or malfunctioning heating/cooling units can result in carbon monoxide leaks. Using barbecue grills, space heaters or generators in poorly ventilated areas can lead to a dangerous build-up of CO. Automobile exhaust systems also emit carbon monoxide, so allowing a vehicle to run in an enclosed garage can enable CO to seep into an attached home.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

CO poisoning exhibits symptoms that may resemble those produced by sea sickness. Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath. Prolonged CO exposure may cause confusion, vomiting and a loss of coordination. As the poisoning progresses, the victim may lose consciousness and die. Many victims die in their sleep without ever being aware of the present dangers of carbon monoxide.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Taking appropriate safety precautions can prevent carbon monoxide from occurring in a home. Many of these are common-sense solutions entailing the use of household appliances. For instance, you should never operate fuel-burning devices in enclosed areas or portable generators indoors. Also, keep the flue open when using the fireplace and always open the garage door when allowing your car to warm up during the winter.

Timely equipment maintenance can ensure appliances are working properly and are free of leaks that could emit carbon monoxide inside your home. Have a professional come to your home to inspect your HVAC system, water heater, oven and washer/dryer at least once a year. The inspection should also verify the proper ventilation of these units. If you have a fireplace, have the chimney cleaned on an annual basis.

The Importance of Installing Carbon Monoxide Detectors

While virtually every jurisdiction in the U.S. mandates the installation of smoke detectors, only 27 states (not including Arizona) have laws that require CO detectors in private dwellings. Like smoke detectors, CO detectors can provide an early warning when the presence of gas reaches an unsafe level. The occupants will hear an alarm that alerts them to the danger — which could mean the difference between life and death.

Where to Place CO Detectors

You should consider installing carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home to ensure maximum coverage. Specific areas to target include outside sleeping areas, in or near attached garages and in confined spaces that do not have sufficient ventilation. Avoid placing them near fuel-burning heating units or appliances, in high-humidity areas such as the bathroom or near any source of blowing air (open windows, ceiling fans, etc.). Also, pay close attention to the manufacturer’s installation instructions and recommendations to maximize the detector’s capabilities and prevent mistakes that could cause it to function improperly.

Contact Titan Alarm for More Information About CO Detector Installation and Use

Titan Alarm, Inc. can integrate carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, fire alarms and other life-saving safety devices as part of a comprehensive security solution for your Phoenix- or Tucson, AZ-area home. Contact us to schedule a no-obligation in-home consultation today.

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Updated by Titan Alarm on November 5, 2018.

Page Updated November 1, 2018