How carbon monoxide alarms can save your life

Each year, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning claims the lives of hundreds of people and causes varying...

Each year, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning claims the lives of hundreds of people and causes varying degrees of sickness in thousands of other individuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CO is known as a silent killer because it is undetectable by the human eye, ear or nose. Carbon monoxide alarms are often the only warning sign that dangerous levels of this poisonous substance are in your home, and they may be the difference between life and death for you and your family.

What is CO?

Carbon monoxide is poisonous gas emitted from many typical household appliances such as gas or wood burning fireplaces, gas or oil furnaces and other gas appliances. Car vehicles also emit CO, and improperly-vented garages are a potential danger zone. While open doors and windows help dissipate carbon monoxide, most energy-efficient homes prevent the exchange of fresh air. Also, people are more likely to close their doors and windows when they go to bed at night, making the sleeping hours the most dangerous time for CO poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless. However, its effects are very tangible. Initial symptoms include nausea, vomiting and headaches; however, the longer CO is inhaled, the more dangerous it becomes. Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to the brain, heart and other organs, and can result in brain and heart damage. In a worst-case scenario, CO poisoning can kill unsuspecting victims while they sleep.

Types of CO alarms

Carbon monoxide alarms can alert you when the carbon monoxide level in your home reaches a dangerous level. Without the ability to see or smell this toxic gas, the alarm is the only thing that stands between CO and your family.

There are three primary types of carbon monoxide alarm sensors. The electrolytic sensor is the most sensitive of the three types, but also the most expensive. The colormetric alarm sensor measures the CO level over a period of time. However, once the alarm is tripped, it may take up to 24 hours for it to reset. The metal oxide semiconductor also measures the levels of bleach and other poisonous gases.

Carbon monoxide alarms can be powered by batteries, or hard-wired into the home's electrical system--with a backup battery in case the power goes out.

You can also purchase a combination smoke detector/carbon monoxide alarm, which will detect and alert you to the presence of either smoke or CO.

For best results

If you only use one CO alarm, place it close to your sleeping quarters. If you use more than one, place them on different levels or at opposite ends of the house. Test hard-wired alarms monthly, and test battery-operated devices weekly. Also, some CO alarms have features that will remind you when the battery is low or when the entire alarm should be replaced.

An Atlanta-area HVAC professional can inspect your ventilation system for CO-related problems and help you select the right type of carbon monoxide alarm for your home.

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