Carbon Monoxide Detectors and "The Silent Killer"

Often termed "the silent killer," carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of accidental poisoning death in America, according to the "Journal of the American Medical Association." Carbon monoxide poisoning has earned this nickname because the gas which causes this condition is only detectable with a carbon monoxide detector. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and invisible. Carbon monoxide is formed from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels such as wood, kerosene, gasoline, charcoal, propane, natural gas, and oil. Common household appliances that form this gas are clothes dryers, gas ovens and ranges, gas furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, kerosene or propane heaters, etc. Fireplaces and wood stoves are also sources. Open flames from fireplaces, wood stoves, ovens and ranges are the most common sources. Proper ventilation will prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, but only a carbon monoxide detector can detect and warn household members of dangerous levels of this gas.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide can build up gradually over a long period of time in homes where the above-listed sources are present. Because it's undetectable, you should also be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Low levels of carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms such as shortness of breath during mild exertion, headaches or nausea. High levels can cause more noticeable symptoms: dizziness, more severe headaches, nausea and fainting with mild exertion. Ultimitely, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage, and death.

How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

Carbon monoxide detectors trigger an alarm when accumulations of this gas rise to a certain level. Carbon monoxide levels can rise gradually over a long period of time, and because they are otherwise undetectable, a properly working detector can be a life-saver. The level at which the alarm is sounded is determined by the levels that would affect a healthy adult. The carbon monoxide danger levels for children and babies, the elderly, pregnant women and those with circulatory or respiratory ailments will be lower. If your household includes these "high-risk" people or children, investing in a detector with digital readouts and knowing the risk levels of carbon monoxide would be highly advised.

Top-Rated Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Where to Buy Them

Both and rated the Kidde Nighthawk carbon monoxide detectors as the best. Price ranges for this brand range from $30 to $50, depending on model. Their model 900-0146 is equipped with a digital readout, is battery operated, peak-level memory which records the highest level of detected carbon monoxide, a low battery indicator and limited 5-year warranty. The Kidde 9CO-5 is also battery operated, is lower priced than the other model because there is no digital readout, but it does perform well in tests. We recommend models with digital readouts so you can be kept apraised of carbon monoxide levels at all times. With the readouts, you are assured that the unit is working properly at all times and you can check the readouts to be aware of the carbon monoxide levels before they rise to the danger level. Especially good in households with "high-risk" members as described above. also gives high marks to several First Alert carbon monoxide detectors. The FCD4 model has battery back-up, an LCD readout, 5 year limited warranty, test buttons and low battery indicator.

There are also comination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors available, for slightly more money.

You can buy one of these detectors at your local Target, Walmart, Home Depot, or other favorite hardware store.

Other Information

Where Should I Install My Detector?
Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air, and can be found with warm rising air, it is recommended that your detector be installed on a wall about 5 feet above the floor, or on the ceiling. Do not install it near a fireplace or other device which produces open flames. If you live in a multi-story house, install one on each floor.

What If the Alarm Sounds?
That's your warning that carbon monoxide levels have risen to a dangerous level. The alarm should sound before the danger level is reached, and before you experience the symptoms of poisoning as described above. Do not assume, because you do not have carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, that all is well. When you hear the alarm, get all members of your household outside into fresh air. Ventilate your home by opening windows and doors. Ask household members if they are experiencing any symptoms of poisoning, and if so, arrange transportation to a medical facility. Try to identify the source of the carbon monoxide before returning inside. We also recommend that a professional check your appliances and chimney as soon as possible.

Do I Really Need One?
Especially if you live in a newer home or a home with storm windows and good insulationing, you will definitely need to consider a carbon monoxide detector. The more airtight your home is, the more likely your home is to develop high carbon monoxide levels, especially if you use any of these common sources for carbon monoxide. Detectors are not expensive, considering the alternatives if you do not have one. There's something to be said about drafty windows though, but even if your home is not airtight, you should still consider one for the safety and health of your family.

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