It’s odorless, colorless and tasteless. Early symptoms of exposure to it may be mistaken for a simple case of the flu. Yet, carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of residential poisoning fatalities in the United States. Each year about 500 Americans die from breathing it — nearly half in their sleep — and over 15,000 require hospital treatment. Produced by incomplete combustion of common fuels like coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas, CO silently accumulates in enclosed spaces and swiftly reaches fatal concentration. Without carbon monoxide detectors installed to alert occupants, death may occur in as little as three minutes.

Early detection of carbon monoxide is a lifesaver, particularly when residents in a home are asleep. Carbon monoxide detectors with alarms are based on two different technologies:

  • Electrochemical detectors rely on a chemical reaction to sense the level of CO. Widely marketed and now considered the most accurate variety, these models utilize a high-decibel audio alarm. Electrochemical detectors have low voltage requirements and many are battery-powered, permitting more versatile location and easier installation.
  • Metal oxide semiconductor detectors utilize an older technology, relying on the reaction between tin oxides and carbon monoxide to detect dangerous levels. Metal oxide carbon monoxide detectors must be plugged in or hardwired to 120-volt house current, limiting location options. However, the AC power source enables more features, such as a digital readout to display current CO levels. Some metal oxide-type detectors are also equipped with a strobe light that accompanies the audio alarm—desirable in homes with elderly or hearing-impaired residents.

The initial purchase price for carbon monoxide detectors of either type is more or less a wash. However, battery/sensor replacement required by electrochemical models after two to three years results in greater expense over the long run. Each sleeping floor of the residence should have at least one detector installed, with another in the vicinity of any appliances that burn natural gas or other combustible fuels.For more about the safety benefits of carbon monoxide detectors, and the dangers of CO exposure, contact Acosta Heating & Cooling — since 1972, Charlotte, North Carolina’s leading heating and cooling providers.