It’s tasteless, colorless and odorless – it’s carbon monoxide (CO). The early symptoms of exposure are often mistaken for flu. CO is the main cause of poison-related fatalities in the USA. Every year, some 500 Americans die from CO inhalation, half of whom die while sleeping. More than 15,000 people require hospital treatment.
CO is produced by deficient combustion in heating systems that are powered by common fuels like natural gas, gasoline, oil and coal. It accumulates silently in enclosed spaces and quickly builds up into a fatal concentration. If carbon monoxide detectors are not installed to warn occupants, death can occur is as little as 3 minutes.
Early detection of CO is a lifesaver, especially when people are asleep at home. CO detectors with alarms are based on 2 technologies:
- Electrochemical Detectors: A chemical reaction senses the level of carbon monoxide. These detectors are now considered to be the most accurate, and they have a high-decibel alarm. Voltage requirements are low, and many are battery-powered, allowing for easier installation and more versatile location.
- Metal Oxide Semi-Conductor Detectors: These use an older technology that relies on the reaction between CO and tin oxides to detect dangerous levels. They have to be hardwired or plugged into a 120-volt electrical current which limits location options. Some models also have a strobe light in addition to an audio alarm – ideal for homes with hearing-impaired or elderly residents.
There should be at least one CO detector installed on every sleeping floor of a home, with another near a heating system or other appliances that utilize natural gas and other combustible fuels.