Detecting Carbon Monoxide

Health, Home, Home & Family
on September 14, 2003

Most homes have smoke alarms, yet many dont have a warning system for carbon monoxidea deadly gas that kills nearly 300 people and sends thousands to hospital emergency rooms each year.

Carbon monoxide is created by most appliances that use flammable fuels such as gas, oil, wood, propane, coal, or kerosene, or by a faulty forced air furnace or a blocked or damaged fireplace flue.

Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so every home should have a detector to sound an alarm if this dangerous gas is present.

Todays home carbon monoxide detectors are designed to warn you before health-threatening levels accumulate, so installing them is your best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. Anyone can install one of these deviceseven a not-so-handy homeownerin less than an hour.

The alarms can be either plugged into any standard household electrical outlet or powered by a 9-volt battery and installed on the wall. The advantage of a plug-in detector is the ease of installation; the downside is a power outage renders it useless. And when power is restored, it takes time for the alarm to recalibrate.

Battery-operated devices provide continuous protection, but you must replace the batteries when you hear the low battery warning (usually every 6-8 months).

Place the detector near your homes sleeping area, where it can wake you during the night, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends. Additional detectors on every floor level and in every bedroom provide extra protection. If you install detectors at eye level, youll be more likely to test them frequentlya good habit to develop.

All carbon monoxide detectors should have these features:

  • emergency alarm
  • easy-to-operate test and reset button
  • light that indicates the power is on
  • digital display indicating carbon monoxide level
  • low battery warning

More sophisticated devices combine smoke and carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide and natural gas alarms. Some feature a nightlight and a dual voice and alarm warning system. After a loud alarm sounds, you hear a voice message, Fire or Warning Carbon Monoxide or Low Battery.

Youll find them sold at hardware stores and home centers for less than $45well worth the sense of security.