Carbon Monoxide Detectors
A carbon monoxide detector or CO detector is a device that detects the presence of the carbon monoxide (CO) gas in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
CO detectors are designed to measure CO levels over time and sound an alarm before dangerous levels of CO accumulate in an environment, giving people adequate warning to safely ventilate the area or evacuate. While CO detectors do not serve as smoke detectors and vice versa, dual smoke/CO detectors are also sold. Smoke detectors detect the smoke generated by flaming or smoldering fires, whereas CO detectors detect and warn people about dangerous CO buildup caused, for example, by a malfunctioning fuel-burning device.
Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
Facts & figures
- In 2005, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 61,100 non-fire CO incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of seven such calls per hour. The number of incidents increased 18 percent from 51,700 incidents reported in 2003. This increase is most likely due to the increased use of CO detectors, which alert people to the presence of CO.
Symptoms of CO poisoning
CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning, and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness, or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.
The concentration of CO, measured in parts per million (ppm) is a determining factor in the symptoms for an average, healthy adult.
- 50 ppm: No adverse effects with eight hours of exposure.
- 200 ppm: Mild headache after two to three hours of exposure.
- 400 ppm: Headache and nausea after one to two hours of exposure.
- 800 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 45 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after one hour of exposure.
- 1,000 ppm: Loss of consciousness after one hour of exposure.
- 1,600 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 20 minutes of exposure.
- 3,200 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 5-10 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after 30 minutes of exposure.
- 6,400 ppm: Headache and dizziness after one to two minutes; unconsciousness and danger of death after 10-15 minutes of exposure.
- 12,800 ppm: Immediate physiological effects, unconsciousness and danger of death after one to three minutes of exposure.
- CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes, or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
- Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
- Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.
- Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
- If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.
- If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
- During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
- A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors, and vent openings.
- Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.
Click here to access NFPA’s Web site with information about CO detectors and why they are so important today.
Virginia’s 4 p.m. Burning Law is currently in effect across the Commonwealth. This law prohibits open burning before 4 p.m. each day (Feb. 15 – April 30) if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brushland or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials. Frequently Asked Questions
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