Is A Carbon Monoxide Detector Really Necessary?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel.

If you utilize a fuel-burning appliances without proper ventilation, or if something goes wrong with your furnace, fireplace, stove, hot-water heater, or other fuel-burning unit, then dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can start to circulate throughout your home.

While steps can be taken to reduce your exposure to excess carbon monoxide, if you have fuel-burning appliances in your home, you must have at least one, if not many, CO detectors installed throughout your home.

The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide is poisonous to humans and pets and must be taken seriously.

Mild exposure to CO can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, irregular breathing, drowsiness and confusion. It has symptoms similar to the flu but without a fever.  Those with heart disease can experience an increase in chest pain.

Severe exposure to CO can cause brain damage and death. Children and the elderly are even more susceptible.

CO doesn’t smell and you won’t be aware that high levels are being released into the air. That’s why it’s called the silent killer. Some people who are overexposed simply fall asleep and never regain consciousness.

If you think you or a family member has been exposed to CO, get outside immediately for fresh air and seek emergency medical help.  Open the windows of your home to ventilate. Call the fire department and don’t use any faulty appliance/engine until it has been thoroughly checked out or replaced.

Here are the types of appliances/engines that can produce CO:

  • Any furnace, cooking stove or range, refrigerator, hot water heater, other appliance or fireplace that uses oil, propane, or natural gas to operate.
  • Any woodstove, heat stove, fireplace, wood-pellet stove, box or parlor stove that uses wood or a wood-burning product to operate.
  • Small gas-powered equipment such as lanterns, generators, trimmers, and chain saws, if operated inside the home or garage.
  • A running car in an attached garage.
  • Tobacco smoke inside the home or garage.

How To Prevent CO Poisoning

Many cases of CO poisonings can be avoided with proper ventilation and appliance maintenance.

When fuel/wood burning appliances/machines are used in an area with improper ventilation, carbon monoxide can accumulate to dangerous levels. Being aware of when and how you are operating these units can go a long way to protecting your family.

Even if you are using these appliances properly, malfunctions within the unit may lead to unpredictable CO emissions. That’s why it’s very important to have your appliances properly installed and maintained regularly.  Have professional service inspections on a timely basis to ensure that your appliances and chimney are in working order and are venting properly. And, always follow manufacturer’s directions when operating any appliances.

  • Ensure your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, coal, or wood burning appliances are serviced by a qualified technician each year.
  • Never use a gas generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, tent, camper, or near an open window of your home.
  • Do not run a vehicle inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open, or even if its just a “quick warm-up”.
  • Make sure the room where an unvented gas or kerosene space heater is used is well ventilated; doors leading to another room should be open to allow added ventilation.
  • Never use an unvented combustion heater overnight or in a room where you are sleeping.
  • Do not heat your house with a gas oven.
  • Always use the vent hood when cooking on a gas stove.
  • Do not operate gas powered outdoor equipment such as a generator or pressure washer within 20 feet of a window, door, or vent (use an extension cord).

The best of prevention methods can fail. That is why it is extremely important to have the proper number of functioning carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home.

Installing and Maintaining CO Detectors

CO detectors are as vital as smoke detectors. While you can do a lot to prevent CO mishaps, sometimes accidents happen.

Unlike a fire, where smoke will alert you to its presence, carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. You will not know if you have excess CO in your home unless you or a family member begins to exhibit symptoms. Even then, the symptoms can very easily be attributed to another illness, or worse, you may be asleep during exposure.

CO detectors can be purchased from many retailers including Walmart, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, and Amazon. Pricing begins around $20 each unit and can increase with additional features.

You will need at least one unit per inhabitable level of your home (a basement but not a crawl space, or a finished attic but not an unfished attic). Additionally, you need a detector within at least 20 feet of a sleeping area.

Example: If you have a two story home with a basement and no attic and the primary bedroom is on the second story but on the opposite side of the home as the other bedrooms, you will need four (4) detectors: one in the basement, one on the main level, and two on the second level (one by the primary bedroom door and the other near the remaining bedrooms). This is at a minimum. Some choose to place a detector in each bedroom and near each fuel burning appliance (such as the laundry room, kitchen, and living room)

Just like smoke detectors, you must monitor your CO detector to ensure it is in working order so it can protect you and your family when it’s most needed.

Remember to replace the device after 5-6 years. Check for a manufactured date stamped on the back to determine its age.

Look on the back of the CO detector for a UL symbol—for Underwriters Laboratories to ensure it has passed safety tests. This symbol indicates that it has been tested to a widely accepted safety standard. This is a third-party testing agency and lets you know that your device is certified. Unfortunately, there are some detectors out there that haven’t had third-party testing and have failed when exposed to dangerous levels of CO, according to Consumer Reports.

Replace batteries as needed. Set a time twice each year, like daylight savings, to replace your CO detectors’ batteries along with any smoke detectors in your home. Many detectors can be hardwired or plugged into a wall outlet. It will still be important to replace the backup batteries on these units.

Reach out at if you have any questions about CO detectors.  Take the time today to examine and test each of your existing detectors and evaluate whether your home needs more. If it has been awhile since your fuel-burning appliances have been serviced, schedule it today!

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