Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas commonly generated from the incomplete burning of carbon-based materials such as natural gas, propane and wood. Wintertime increases the risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning as fuels are burned to heat homes and ventilation is reduced to keep the cold out and the warmth in. A properly installed CO detector can identify increased emissions and protect against carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Step 1: Do not confuse CO detectors with smoke detectors. CO detectors measure specific amounts of CO present in the air, and smoke detectors identify airborne particles generated by flaming or smoldering fires. Combination smoke and CO detectors are available but may not be the best choice for all applications.
Step 2: Choose a CO detector that suits your specific needs. Battery-operated detectors work well in homes where power failures are a frequent nuisance or in areas where electricity is not readily available. Most electric CO detectors come equipped with a battery backup, but will only function for a short time on battery power. Detectors with digital displays allow occupants to detect an increase in carbon monoxide, long before it reaches a dangerous level, but are of little added value if the detector is not checked daily.
Step 3: The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing CO detectors in a centrally located space within 10 feet of all sleeping areas. Additional detectors should be placed on each level of a home for increased protection. Detectors should also be located near doorways leading to attached garages. Keep detectors a minimum of 15 feet from stoves, space heaters and other fuel-burning appliances. Do not install detectors in humid areas or near bathrooms.
Step 4: Carbon monoxide weighs roughly the same as air and will rise with warm air from heat-producing appliances or fuel burning devices. Each detector is different, so refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper placement.
Step 5: Test CO detectors yearly and replace them every five to seven years.
Step 6: In conjunction with the presence of CO detectors, be aware of fuel-burning problems that could produce CO emissions. Signs include decreased hot water supply, soot deposits on vents or appliances, unfamiliar odors, increased condensation on windows, or decreased furnace efficiency. Call a professional if any of these problems persist.