Carbon monoxide is often referred to as a “silent killer.” It is tasteless and odorless, and it can kill in minutes at high exposure. At lower doses, it slowly starves the body’s vital organs of the oxygen they need to survive while creating only vague, flu-like symptoms.
If it sounds scary, it should. Each year, hundreds of people die from CO poisoning in their own homes, and thousands more are hospitalized. The most dangerous CO sources are common household appliances like ovens, heaters, water heaters.
The good news is that carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely easy to prevent. With a few simple safeguards, you can be certain that you and your family are safe from this deadly gas.
In this installment of our three-part series on CO, we’ll look at carbon monoxide detectors, a must-have device that is all too often missing in our modern Pittsburgh homes.
There have been many advancements since carbon monoxide detectors first entered the market. Today’s detectors have sensors that last 5-10 years, can trigger alarms and flashing lights when a threat is detected, can be hard-wired into a home’s AC wiring, and can let you know when they need replaced.
The first CO detectors to enter the market more than a decade ago had “biomimetic” sensors, meaning that they contained a gel that changed color in the presence of carbon monoxide. This provided a fairly accurate indication that CO was in the house.
“Opto-chemical” sensors work on a similar principle, changing color upon reaction to carbon monoxide. But these are less precise than biomimetic sensors.
“Electrochemical” detectors contain a special fuel cell that is able to detect the amount of carbon monoxide in the air with remarkable precision. Dangerous CO levels will trigger an alarm to warn your family. Some models have displays that will tell you how much CO is in the air at the moment. The newest electrochemical detectors also have low power requirements, relatively long lifespans, and can be hard-wired into your home’s electrical system.
“Semiconductor” detectors use an electric circuit to measure the amount of CO in the air. They are capable of taking very accurate measurements and sending them to a display. Many models include alarms and strobe light warnings. These types of detectors have relatively high power demands, but long lifespans.
For heavy sleepers, or people with hearing problems, a variety of CO detector accessories are available, including vibrating pillow pads, strobe lights, and more.
When shopping for a CO detector, it’s important not to base your purchase solely on cost. If you don’t believe us, the EPA or any other government agency will tell you the exact same thing. A CO detector won’t break your bank, but it’s not an area where want to try to cut corners.
People generally know they can rely on smoke detectors because, in general, they are a solid safeguard. Even a cheap smoke detector bought at a drug store will probably do a decent job. But CO detector technology isn’t as uniformly reliable as smoke detectors. Some CO detectors are better than others and will do a better job safeguarding your family. And regardless of which brand or technology you buy, CO detectors must be re-calibrated every few years.
We also recommend having your CO detector hard-wired into your home’s electric system. Too often, people forget to check and change the batteries on their smoke and CO detectors. In the case of a fire, there is at least smoke and heat to warn you of danger. With CO, you might have no idea until it is too late.
Once you have a CO detector installed, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Your detector should be your last line of defense. The first is making sure that your appliances are not slowly poisoning you.
If your CO detector alarm goes off, the EPA advises you to:
1). Make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
2). Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of poisoning.
3). If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. Tell the doctor that you suspect CO poisoning.
4). If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air, turn off all potential sources of CO – your oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater and any vehicle or small engine.
5). Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house. Gillece Services will make a house call any day of year, any time day or night all around Pittsburgh and the surrounding Western Pennsylvania region.
See the third installment of this series to learn how to get started – COMING SOON!