What Are Safe CO Numbers for Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

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What Are Safe CO Numbers for Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
What Are Safe CO Numbers for Carbon Monoxide Detectors? (Image: http://lowes.com)

Hundreds of people die in their homes every year because of carbon monoxide poisoning. CO is especially lethal because it can't be seen or smelled. Carbon monoxide kills because its symptoms are frequently mistaken for the flu, a headache, nausea, dizziness or fatigue.

What is CO and Where Does It Come From?

CO is an invisible gas formed by the incomplete combustion of a fuel such as natural gas, wood, oil, propane or charcoal. It can be produced by faulty natural gas- or oil-fueled furnaces, stoves, dryers or water heaters. It is also produced by charcoal, propane and natural gas grills, camping stoves, propane heaters, kerosene lanterns, gasoline-powered lawn mowers, wood stoves, fireplaces, gasoline-powered snow blowers and portable generators.

How Can CO Be Deadly?

CO displaces oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart and brain of the oxygen they need to function normally. If CO-producing appliances or equipment is operated in an enclosed space---garage, recreational vehicle, semi, camper or home---device malfunction could cause a fatal CO leak.
CO in the air is measured in parts per million, or ppm. The harmful effects depend on the concentration in the air, the length of exposure, and the health and size of the affected individual. A fetus, children, heart and lung disease patients and the elderly are especially vulnerable to low levels of CO that may not even faze large adults. The amount of CO in a person's bloodstream is measured as a percentage. The same ppm will produce a higher, and therefore more dangerous, percentage in the smaller bloodstream a 50-pound child than it would in a 225-pound adult.

Importance of CO Detectors

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency suggest that an exposure to between 9 and 50 ppm for up to eight hours every twelve months can be considered safe for healthy adults. Similarly, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, most healthy adults will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm, but as CO levels rise to above 70 ppm, flu-like symptoms will become apparent. Concentration levels above 150 ppm can cause disorientation, unconsciousness and death, as well as long-term neurological effects. According to Underwriters Laboratory Standard 2034, home CO detector alarms must sound whenever they measure any of these carbon monoxide levels: • 70 ppm for four hours • 150 ppm for 50 minutes • 400 ppm for 15 minutes It's important to note that this standard is based on the likelihood of CO poisoning symptoms in an average healthy adult. Other important numbers: • Alarm tones must reach a decibel level of 85 • CO detectors should be replaced every five years

Misconceptions about CO Detectors

If you had an early model carbon monoxide detector and it didn't operate reliably, understand that the technology has been dramatically updated and several design flaws have been corrected. A few important cautions: • Do a little research before you make a purchase. Not all CO detectors are the same; some are demonstrably better than others. • Don't base your selection solely on the item's cost • Don't be quick to decide that your CO detector is malfunctioning if the alarm goes off occasionally. Instead, have your furnace checked before you return the device to the store where you purchased it. • If your alarm sounds and an HVAC dealer or other professional tells you it's not your furnace or water heater, get a second opinion. Not all service technicians have the proper testing equipment.

What You Need to Know about CO

CO poisoning has killed people who were swimming near the exhaust of an idling boat, sleeping in campers with propane space heaters running, operating gasoline-powered generators in closed garages, and warming themselves in cars stuck in snow drifts. To be safe, follow these tips: • Never heat your home with a gas stove • Never grill inside unless your grill is electric • Never operate a kerosene lamp or camping stove in your home or in a poorly ventilated tent or cabin • Always have your furnace checked by a professional at the start of every heating season

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