Personal Insurance

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Most people understand the importance of having smoke detectors throughout their house. A random search of recent news stories helps to underscore the importance of the early detection of carbon monoxide:

  • Peachtree Corners, Georgia: “Family Hospitalized for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning”
  • Henderson County, North Carolina: “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Kills Two”
  • New Columbia, Pennsylvania: “Teenager Dead, Others Injured After Carbon Monoxide Poisoning”
  • Otis, Indiana: “LaPorte County Man Dies from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning”
  • Brevard, North Carolina: “Boy, 13, Dies of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Transylvania County”

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that is toxic to humans and domestic animals. It is created by the burning of any kind of fuel such as wood, oil, gas, kerosene, or charcoal. The most common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning in a home are damaged or improperly installed fuel-burning appliances and blocked-up chimneys.

How CO Harms People

When a person inhales carbon monoxide, the gas attaches to the hemoglobin in the blood, crowding out the oxygen. This effectively starves the cells of the fuel they need to function. In lower doses, CO poisoning can cause confusion, headaches, light-headedness, vomiting, or flu-like symptoms. In higher doses, the result is usually death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 400 people die every year in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

The possibility of CO poisoning is especially high in the wake of an emergency or natural disaster. Poisoning can often occur when people turn to non-conventional ways to cook when a power outage prevents their stoves and microwaves from functioning. Also, whenever a winter storm knocks out electricity or natural gas service to an area, a few people are invariably poisoned when they attempt to heat their homes with improvised methods such as camping stoves or charcoal grills.

Preventing CO Poisoning

One of the best ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is with a carbon monoxide detector. These relatively inexpensive devices can sense CO in a room or enclosed area and sound an alert. While smoke detectors are mandated by law in the building codes of every state in the nation, the relative newness of CO detectors means they’re not yet required in many locations.

Even if a city or state considers CO detectors “optional,” most health officials and safety experts emphasize how critical these devices are in helping to prevent the tragedy of in-home carbon monoxide poisoning.

Placement of Carbon Monoxide Detectors

The International Association of Fire Chiefs recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of a home, including the basement. Detectors should be positioned within 10 feet of each bedroom door and also near any attached garage.

Homeowners and builders should avoid placing a CO detector within fifteen feet of heating or cooking appliances. In addition, they should not be located near fuel-burning appliances because the safe levels of CO these appliances produce can cause “false positives.” Since each CO detector is different, experts recommend that those installing them follow the directions included by the manufacturer to achieve the highest degree of safety.

Note that CO detectors are not the same as smoke detectors, though some dual smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are on the market.

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