By Eric Munhall
Each year, carbon monoxide poisoning kills hundreds of Americans, and hospitalizes as many of 50,000 more, and in just about every case, these accidents are 100% preventable. Most incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning occur at home. CO gas cannot be seen or smelled. It builds up from improperly vented fireplaces, gas heaters, stoves, water heaters and from fumes derived from an attached garage.
What Should You Do To Protect Your Family?
First and foremost, install carbon monoxide monitors in your home. Effective as of July 1, 2011, all California homeowners, including landlords, must comply with the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010. This law requires the installation of carbon monoxide monitors in all homes, old and new. Unfortunately, according to the Center for Disease Control, only 30% of homes have functioning carbon monoxide monitors installed.
Where Should CO Monitors be Installed?
Carbon monoxide monitors should be installed in hallways outside of all bedrooms. One monitor can suffice as long as it can be installed in a location, so that no bedroom door is further than 15 feet from a monitor. Otherwise, an additional monitor is required. There should be at least one monitor on each level of the home, including basements and finished attics. If there is an attached garage, there should be a monitor near the garage, whether there is an interior door or not. This is because the garage is an important source of carbon monoxide, and because CO gases can pass through drywall.
At room temperature, carbon monoxide is about the same weight as air (The unit of measurement for air at room temperature is 1.00; CO is 0.96716). However, when CO is produced, it is generally much hotter than air, and, therefore, rises for some time until it gradually assumes room temperature. This is why a CO monitor should be place about eye-level or higher on the wall. This will enable the monitor to detect concentrations of the gas much sooner, than a monitor plugged in at a floor level outlet.
Here is a summary of manufacturer’s installation guidelines:
- Alarms should be placed on every level of your home, including the basement, and near or over any attached garage.
- They should be located within 10-15 feet outside of each separate sleeping area.
- Monitors can be placed on the wall or the ceiling as specified in the installation instructions. When wall mounting a system-connected CO monitor, it should be at least as high as a light switch, but no closer than six inches from the ceiling. When mounted on a ceiling, the monitor should be located at least 12 inches from any wall.
- Do not install monitors within 15-20 feet of any furnace or fuel burning heat source.
- Monitors should not be placed in or near humid areas, such as bathrooms.
- Place alarms in areas where they will not be damaged by children or pets (This means that CO Monitors should not be installed at electric outlets near the floor).
- Do not install alarms in direct sunlight or areas subjected to temperature extremes (crawlspaces, unfinished attics, porches).
- They should not be installed behind curtains or other obstructions.
- In general, carbon monoxide monitor should be placed high (near the ceiling) for most effective use.
- Carbon monoxide monitors should not be installed near ceiling fans, heat vents, air conditioners, fresh air returns, exterior doors or open windows.
What To Do If a CO Monitor Alarm Goes Off
One of the largest manufacturer’s of carbon monoxide monitors is First Alert. According to their website, if a CO monitor sounds, the best course of action is to:
- Operate the Test/Silence button.
- Call your emergency services,
- fire department or 911.
- Immediately move to fresh air—outdoors or by an open door or window. Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for. Do not reenter the premises, or move away from the open door or window until the emergency services responder has arrived, the premises have been aired out, and your CO Alarm remains in its normal condition.
- After following steps 1-3, if your CO Alarm reactivates within a 24-hour period, repeat steps 1-3 and call a qualified appliance technician to investigate for sources of CO from fuel-burning equipment and appliances, and inspect for proper operation of this equipment. If problems are identified during this inspection have the equipment serviced immediately.
- Note any combustion equipment not inspected by the technician, and consult the manufacturers’ instructions, or contact the manufacturers directly, for more information about CO safety and this equipment. Make sure that motor vehicles are not, and have not, been operating in an attached garage or adjacent to the residence.
Most manufacturers and government agencies also suggest annual inspections of all carbon monoxide producing appliances in your home. In the next post of this two-part series, we will discuss those inspections, as well as a more detailed discussion about the harmful effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Source Material and Further Reading
- “Carbon Monoxide Facts” First Alert website: http://www.firstalert.com/carbon-monoxide-facts
- Marijke Vroomen During. “Carbon Monoxide, A Silent Killer: Are You Safe at Home?” Forbes, August 20, 2013.
A Sample of a Manufacturer’s Installation Guidelines
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