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What Homeowners Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide In The Home

If you're a homeowner, you know that home safety is important.  People talk about it all the time.  When you buy your home, an expert even comes out to do an inspection to assure you that your home is "safe." They even make you pay for it!  Did you know that most homeowners own something in their home that, if it were to malfunction, could kill them in less than 3 minutes?  What if I told you that not only could this happen, but there would be no visible signs that anything was even wrong?  You wouldn't see anything that would indicate a problem.  There would be no noises that you'd hear to alert you that there was something not functioning properly.  You wouldn't smell anything odd that would cause you to go look.  This "silent killer", as it is known, is Carbon Monoxide.  Therefore, it is absolutely vital to the health and safety of you and everyone in your home that you have a Carbon Monoxide detector.

Carbon Monoxide, or CO, is a gas that is produced by many different things that 90% of people have in their homes.  These include: gas stoves and ovens, gas furnaces and fire places, gas dryers, gas water heaters and vehicles, are all producers of CO.  This gas is an extremely toxic gas that is produced by combustion.  When something goes wrong with any of these appliances, or if they aren't properly ventilated, they produce levels of CO that can be toxic in the home.  Even more worrying, there really aren't many indicators when this is happening, so it's hard for most people to even realize that something is wrong.  More than 5,000 people are injured each year as a result of toxic levels of CO.   Hundred die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Impact on the Body

As CO builds up in your blood stream, it prevents blood cells from transporting oxygen to the other parts of the body.  Without oxygen, your organs and all other tissues in your body cannot function and start to shut down. The speed of the build-up is dependent upon the concentration of CO inhaled.  With 15% CO, some people experience a slight headache.  At concentration levels of 25%, some will experience nausea.  At 30%, damage can become more permanent, and even higher levels can lead to a loss of consciousness or even death.

Because many of the early symptoms are so common with other illnesses such as the common cold or flu, without a CO detector it is unlikely that someone would relate these symptoms to carbon monoxide.  CO detectors are real life savers for you and others in your home. 

CO Detection in the Home

When you purchase a home, your home inspector will mark it as a health and safety hazard if the home doesn't have a current and operational CO detector installed somewhere in the home. If there are several floors in the home, a CO detector must be installed and operational on each floor.  CO detectors look a lot like smoke detectors.  They are relatively inexpensive, costing $25 up to $80 for a combined smoke alarm and CO detector.  You can even buy a combination smoke and CO detector if that is your preference.  Some home alarm systems have incorporated both smoke and CO detectors as part of their alarm system as well.  It is suggested that when installing a CO detector that it not be placed right above or within five feet of any of the above listed appliances so as not to give off a false alarm.

There are two main differences to consider when shopping for a CO detector. You can get one that is hard-wired to the electrical current of the home, in which case you would not ever need to worry about buying batteries or ever having to check or replace them.  However, this could pose a problem should the power to the home ever go out, triggering a dangerous time for CO.  This is especially important to consider in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane. Such an event may cause damage to the home and could also cause these appliances to malfunction and potentially leak CO into the home, thus creating two serious problems at once!

Battery powered CO detectors work much the same as battery powered smoke detectors. You need to check the batteries periodically and replace them.  Both options should be routinely tested for proper functionality and replaced according to the manufacturers indicated lifespan of the product.

Fixing or Preventing a CO Issue 

Most of the things that would cause a CO detector to go off will not be a threat to your life, but they can trigger the alarm. The most common cause for a CO detector being triggered is inadequate ventilation of one of the above listed appliances. Always make sure that the home is properly ventilated. Vents should be installed according to the building codes in your area.  Another very important thing to remember is to never start your car inside the garage if the garage door is closed.  This will cause extremely high concentrations of CO to be emitted from your vehicle and will fill your garage quickly.  Next, be sure that if you have a gas stove that you never leave it open.  This will also cause unsafe levels of CO to be emitted into your home.

Also, never use a generator indoors.  Never place a generator outside near a vent, window or door that leads into the home.  Never start lawn mowers or snowblowers or leave them running in enclosed spaces like a garage.  And this might sound odd, but you should never barbecue in an enclosed area.  The CO emitted from a gas grill or barbecue needs to be ventilated outside in order to remain nontoxic.

CO Safety 

If your CO detector is triggered, the most important thing is to get out!  Leave the home immediately and do not try to go back inside to determine the cause.  If you can, leave doors or windows open as you leave.  CO detectors are designed to signal if CO levels are unsafe even if you have no symptoms.  CO is invisible and odorless.  A CO alarm going off is an indication that there is something wrong and there could be high amounts of CO in the air.  Call 911 and wait for a professional to tell you it is safe to return to your home.  A CO detector will not stop sounding the alarm and cannot be reset until safe levels return inside the home.

For more information about CO detectors, tips for preventing CO poisoning and how to receive reminders and recommendations to help make your home safer, join vipHomeLink HERE.  This digital home management tool operates 24/7 and helps you stay on top of important home maintenance that can be critical to keeping your home running, while improving the overall value and safety of your home. 

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