CO Alarm at home – why should we have it?

Posted by: Judit



CO Alarm at home - why should we have it? 

Every year, more and more people die from CO poisoning caused by gas appliances that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated. Levels that do not kill can cause serious harm if breathed in. In extreme cases paralysis and brain damage can be caused as a result of prolonged exposure to CO. Understanding of the risks and providing a reliable CO alarm could dramatically reduce this risk.

Some words about this silent killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including oil, wood and coal, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. It is produced only when the fuel does not burn properly.

The source of CO: fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas, or non-consumer products, such as cars left running in closed garages.

Although CO problems are more common during the heating season, can be a problem during the summer as well. Boats and some other fuel burning devices such as non-electric heaters for camping and fishing are used year-round and can be sources of CO during recreational activities.

All people and pets are exposed to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs. The binding of hemoglobin to CO is much more stronger than to oxygen, so a very small amount may be very dangerous. Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures, victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.

Difference between CO poisoning and flu. It could be CO poisoning if:

  • You feel better when you are away from your home;
  • Several people in the home get sick at the same time (the flu is usually passed from person to person);
  • The family members who are most affected spend the most time in the home;
  • Symptoms occur or get worse shortly after turning on a fuel-burning device (oven, fireplace) or running a vehicle in attached garage;
  • Indoor pets also appear ill (pets may experience symptoms first);
  • You don’t have a fever or generalized aching
  • Symptoms appear at the same time as signs of inappropriate ventilation, maintenance or operation of fuel-burning devices.

The health effects of CO depend as well as each individual’s health condition. CO concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm). Most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm but some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable and can include headache, fatigue and nausea. At sustained CO concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are possible.

You can’t see it, taste it or smell it but CO can kill quickly without warning. There are signs that you can look out for which indicate incomplete combustion is occurring and may result in the production of CO:

  • Yellow or orange rather than blue flames (except fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour flame).
  • Yellow/brown staining around or on appliances.
  • Pilot lights that frequently blow out.
  • Increased condensation inside windows.


How to prevent CO poisoning?

  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owners manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of safety standards. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.

Things do if have symptoms of CO poisoning

If you feel any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately. Leave the home and call your fire department to report your symptoms. You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning. If the doctor confirms CO poisoning, make sure a qualified service person checks the appliances for proper operation before reusing them.

Importance of CO alarms

CO alarms always have been and still are designed to alarm before potentially life-threatening levels of CO are reached. Essential, to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a test button tests whether the circuitry is operating correctly, not the accuracy of the sensor. Alarms have a recommended replacement age, which can be obtained from the manufacturer.

Recommandation regarding CO alarm installation

CO alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It is recommanded that one CO alarm be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home. CO alarms may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall. Hard wired or plug-in CO alarms should have battery backup. Avoid locations that are near heating vents or that can be covered by furniture or draperies. Not recommanded installing CO alarms in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances.

Never ignore an alarming CO alarm! It is warning you of a potentially deadly hazard.

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