Carbon monoxide or “CO” is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that’s often called the “silent killer” due to its ability to strike unnoticed without the use of CO detectors. CO is produced during combustion or burning, and it can become a deadly problem resulting from faulty fuel-burning items such as furnaces or fireplaces.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Danger Levels

CO becomes toxic when it reaches a level higher than 35 parts per million (PPM). Exposure over 2-3 hours to a CO level between 35 to 200 PPM will produce symptoms such as a headache, sore eyes and a runny nose. Exposure rates between 200 to 800 PPM will cause dizziness, drowsiness and vomiting.  Exposure to CO at 800 PPM or higher will result in unconsciousness, brain damage and death within a few minutes. A digital output CO detector is best to use because you can see the CO level detected.

A CO detector is not a smoke/fire alarm. There are multiple function (combination) alarms that will detect CO, smoke and fire, but they have different components to do the different jobs. Homes need to have CO and smoke/fire detectors, or combination alarms to be safe.

CO Detectors Best Locations

Unlike smoke detectors that are mounted near ceilings and upper portions of different floors in a building, a CO detector can be located near the ceiling or floor because CO is about the same density as regular air and, if present, will disperse uniformly throughout the room.

In the United States and other countries there are various laws concerning CO detectors being located in homes or buildings. It’s important to have CO detectors in your home and also ensure your home is in compliance with local standards. For example, in some locations, when a plumber replaces a flame-producing water heater, a CO detector must be installed in the home if there isn’t already one in use.

As with some smoke or fire detectors, CO detectors can come with wireless connections that when connected to receivers installed in pillows (for example) the resulting vibration during an alert will awaken someone who may have a hearing disability.

CO Detectors Then And Now

CO detectors are relatively new technology compared to smoke detectors and may not be located in some older homes. During the 1990s, CO detectors became more widespread as technology improved and people became more safety aware. The original CO detectors lasted only a couple of years before they needed to be replaced and were quite expensive. Modern CO detectors are generally rated for seven years and have become more reasonably priced. Most CO detectors will now make an audible noise after they hit the 7-year mark to let you know it’s time to replace them.

CO Detectors Battery or AC-powered

As with smoke detectors, many CO detectors are battery powered and people are usually advised to change the batteries every year. However, there are a lot of CO detectors that are AC-powered now and include a built-in back-up battery that’s recharged by the AC power for the life of the device.

One thing that’s a bit different with CO detectors compared to smoke detectors is the action you take after one makes an alert. As mentioned earlier, unlike smoke or fire, CO is undetectable by human senses. If the CO detector alerts, you must be certain there’s no CO present before simply resetting the alarm and going about your business.

Be sure to follow the instructions provided by the alarm’s manufacturer and any directives from your local fire department as you include CO detectors in your plan, your plan to be safe.

Stay safe!