Carbon Monoxide (CO), also referred to as the silent killer, is a real danger. Canada experiences 300+ Carbon Monoxide related deaths every year. Research shows that, just like smoke alarms, Carbon Monoxide detectors can save lives.
What is Carbon Monoxide and where does it come from?
Carbon Monoxide is a gas that is created from an incomplete combustion process. Carbon monoxide can be created by fuel-burning appliances, such as furnaces or gas ranges. It is a odorless and colorless gas. If inhaled, the carbon monoxide gas will bind to the hemoglobin in the blood and will deliver carbon monoxide instead of oxygen to the cells.
Hemoglobin, or also the red blood cells, is about 250 times more likely to bind with carbon monoxide than oxygen. Once bound with the CO molecules, it is extremely difficult to remove them from the bloodstream, which is why you should always seek medical assistance after exposure.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon Monoxide is difficult to detect, as it does not smell and cannot be seen. The symptoms from the on-set of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, except for the fever:
- Shortness of breath
As the level of CO poisoning increases, the symptoms will also worsen.
- Mental confusion
- Loss of muscular coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Ultimately death
The severity and speed at which these symptoms progress will depend on the duration and exposure. Taking a full breath of CO can lead to immediate death, as happened during a mining disaster.
What levels of CO are dangerous?
The levels at which symptoms are noticed will largely depend on the individual’s health condition. Carbon monoxide concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm). Between 1 and 70 ppm, most people will not experience any symptoms. An increase above 70ppm is when symptoms will start becoming noticeable. Sustained exposure to concentrations above 150ppm to 200ppm can lead to unconsciousness and ultimately death.
Where to place a Carbon Monoxide Detector?
There is a common misconception that CO will drop to the floor, as it is heavier than air. Carbon Monoxide is marginally heavier than air; that part is correct, though, with the small marginal weight difference, it mixes with the air and will be present at all heights. Thus mounting a carbon monoxide detector can be done high up on a wall or plug-in style detectors at the nearest receptacle can also be used. Locate the detectors in hallways outside of bedrooms. It is not recommended to place them close to fuel-burning appliances.
What to do if the Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds
The sound for a CO alarm is generally a temporal four pattern. That means four beeps with a 1-second pause after the beeps. Some CO alarms will also announce the alarm condition with a voice prompt.
If the alarm sounds, NEVER ignore it and NEVER try to find the source of the problem. It is informing you of a potentially life-threatening situation. When the alarm sounds:
- Immediately move outside for fresh air.
- Call your emergency services, fire department, or 911.
- After calling 911, do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for. DO NOT reenter the premises until the emergency services responders have given you permission. You could lose consciousness and die if you go in the home.
- If the source of the CO is determined to be a malfunctioning appliance, DO NOT operate that appliance until it has been properly serviced by trained personnel.
How to test a CO Detector
Testing a carbon monoxide detector is very similar to testing a smoke alarm. Most units will have a test button. Note that testing the detector only test the internal circuitry and not the sensitivity of the detector. That is why it is important to replace these detectors upon their expiry. To test a CO detector:
- Press the button on your alarm and keep it pressed down. The alarm should sound. If interconnected, the other alarms should sound as well.
- If your alarm has no button, it is outdated and must be replaced.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on testing and maintaining your alarm.
- Check the expiration date on the side or back of the device. If there isn’t one, replace it.
If the alarm fails to sound or the alarm is past its expiration date, we recommend it be immediately replaced. We also recommend that you blow any dust that may be present within the casing out of the unit every year. This will minimize false alarms and maximize its detection potential. When replacing a line-voltage or 120V unit, please ensure to hire qualified personnel, such as Nexus Fire & Safety to make sure the device is replaced properly and safely.
Nexus Fire & Safety carries a large stock of smoke alarms and is ready to assist with replacing any outdated units that you may have. We have electricians on staff that are more than qualified to assist with any new installations or replacements of the devices. Additionally, we can provide design assistance for placement and answer any general fire safety questions you may have.