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How to Protect Your Family from Carbon Monoxide

by Brittany on February 15, 2012

Carbon Monoxide (“CO”) is odorless, clear and tasteless and can kill a person in minutes at high levels.  Carbon Monoxide is produced when any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. If your appliances are properly maintained, the amount of CO produced is usually not dangerous. However, people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances.To me, that screams terrifying.

One of the most important parts of home maintenance is to keep up with all of your gas powered appliances as well as have and maintain both carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.  They save lives.  Whether you live in a house, an apartment or an RV make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors that are not expired and that you test them and clean them regularly.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

What is in My Home That Produces Carbon Monoxide?

The list is not short and most people have something in their home.  Topping the list according to the EPA are oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves.  CO is also present in all gasoline powered engines – not just your car!  Your lawn mower, weed whacker, snow blower and generator may be powered by gas.

Maintaining (or making sure your landlord maintains) your gas fueled appliances regularly is so important to prevent you from operating something that is not working and could kill you.  Over the next few months I will walk through the maintenance of all these appliances as we build our home maintenance calendars.  In fact, maintenance is even more important than having the CO detector.

What are the Big Carbon Monoxide No Nos?

According to the EPA:

You should never leave a car idling in an enclosed space such as a garage.

You should never use a gas oven to heat your home.

You should never use a charcoal grill indoors anywhere.

You should never sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.

You should not use portable gas powered appliances in enclosed spaces.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors Save Lives

Only 25 states require that CO detectors be present in residences and the regulations vary widely in those 25 states.  Whether or not you live in one of those states, you should have carbon monoxide detectors in your home.  While the technology is not as advanced as smoke detectors, these units are designed to pick up any dangerous amounts of CO and sound a loud alarm that will alert you and your family.

If you already have carbon monoxide detectors, check them out and make sure that they are not expired and that you test them and vacuum them regularly to ensure they are functioning and that there is no dust buildup that could hurt the alarm’s performance or cause false alarms.  I totally thought we had one installed and I was wrong.  We had only smoke detectors and one old CO detector that I flipped over to find it was more than 10 years old.  Most CO detectors have a life of 5-7 years and they say on the package how long they are good for.

The old one we had did have the Nighthawk technology, which is supposedly the best out there, but it was manufactured in 1999.  In addition to being expired, it was installed downstairs and we had no alarms for CO in the upstairs of our home.

Expired Carbon Monoxide DetectorI knew we needed more than one CO detector and I knew we needed new ones.  There are a lot of choices out there.  You can have carbon monoxide detectors hardwired by a professional or do it yourself.  CPI Security wanted $200 to install one for us, but we chose to go with another plug in model.  There are plug in models, battery operated models and combination models available.  Keep in mind that with a battery operated or plug in model you could take it with you on trips to make sure that you and your family are safe in hotel rooms or your RV.

Where Should Carbon Monoxide Detectors be Placed?

Follow all instructions that come with your detector for any restrictions on height or proximity to vents, windows or appliances.

If you only have 1 detector, place it near the bedroom of the house and be sure that the alarm is loud in all sleeping areas.  If you can add detectors, alarms should be placed within 15 feet of any sleeping area and on each level of your home.

I purchased 2 Kidde carbon monoxide alarms at Home Depot and will be purchasing another 2 for the downstairs and basement.  I chose the Kidde alarms after some research and the fact that Kidde is the only manufacturer of CO alarms that meets the standards of both the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in the U.S. and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

The one on the left is the Kidde Tamper Resistant Alarm that alarms when it is removed from the wall.  I put this alarm in the kids’ play area upstairs.  That way, if they remove it or bump it I will know.  It sells for $25.87.

The one on the right is the Kidde Digital Alarm, which I put outside our bedrooms.  All of our doors are within 15 feet of one another so I think this is a good place.  I really like that I can see the digital reading at all times.  (In the picture at the top you saw the lovely 0.) I also like that with this model the plug can be rotated to fit upright or horizontal outlets, be mounted to the wall or placed on a table.  It has a small cord that hides in the back.  This model is $39.97.  Both of these models have battery backup.

Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detectors

There is no reason not to have a CO detector in your home.  It is as simple as plugging it in, writing the date on the side and testing it regularly.  The units have a simple test button to push and the instructions will tell you what should happen.

What to Do If Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarms or Poisoning is Suspected

Even with an alarm, you should know the symptoms of CO poisoning and react immediately if you experience them.  If your alarm goes off, check with every one in the house to see if they are experiencing any of these symptoms.   They include severe headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and feeling faint.  Even low levels of CO can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, headaches, and can affect your health.

If you experience these symptoms and your alarm sounds, leave the house immediately and get medical attention.  Your hospital can test for CO levels.  If no one is experiencing symptoms make sure you ventilate the home and turn off all gas fueled appliances.  Then call a technician to inspect your appliances and test for CO emissions and that there is nothing blocking these appliances from venting properly.

Please check your detectors and if you don’t have these in your home, install them.  Having a CO detector could save lives.

Please consider sharing this post using the buttons on the left and helping spread the word on Carbon Monoxide safety.  Let me know if you have any questions and I will try to answer them!

Also, get ready for more Tip Top Tuesday, where we tackle home maintenance one week at a time!  Subscribe by email to get tips right in your inbox!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy February 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Great article! I’m going to show this to the Hubs tonight, I think we need to re-examine what we’re doing with this in our home. Thanks for the thorough post…I think we’ll be purchasing a few of the Kidde brand detectors as well! :)
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Brittany February 15, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Yes, please do! Infants, children and the elderly are at the highest risk and suffer the worst consequences so as parents we need to be extra careful! Before I researched it I had no idea that we needed more than one, that they were not supposed be installed near gas appliances or that they expired! I hope it helps!


Tonya February 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Both of my parents died of carbon monoxide poisoning so thank you, from the bottom of my heart for posting this.
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Brittany February 15, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Oh my goodness Tonya I am so sorry to hear about your parents. I am sending my love to you.

I am so surprised at how many people do not have these detectors and how few states require them. I want to help people maintain their homes on this site and make them pretty, but my biggest concern is always safety in the home.




liz February 16, 2012 at 8:31 am

We had a upholstery cleaning company whose crew did NOT handle the ventilation properly, and the evening after they left, the CO detectors went off and we called the Fire Dept. This was when Kate was about 13 months old. SO scary!
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Michelle | Green Earth Bazaar February 18, 2012 at 10:51 am

We installed the battery operated type – it was so easy. I highly recommend getting some if you haven’t already.

Peace. ;)


Lisha February 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Very informative. I’m so happy you decided to share this. True, a lot of people don’t realize that simple “innocent” acts are actually causing them great health hazards. Hopefully more people will get to read this. :)



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