In a given year, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills 150 to 200 Americans, sends tens of thousands to the emergency room and puts several thousand in the hospital. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid becoming part of those statistics by installing carbon monoxide detectors and following some easy safety tips.
First, let’s take a look at 8 tips for choosing, placing and using CO detectors.
Buy properly endorsed CO detectors
Buy separate CO detectors
The best smoke detectors are “combination” or “dual sensor” detectors which have an ionization sensor—to detect flame—and a photoelectric sensor, which detects smoldering fires. However, as Consumer Reports notes, no manufacturer is producing a detector that effectively detects both types of fires and carbon monoxide. Using separate detectors will give you the best possible detection capability.
Make sure you have a battery backup
If your CO detectors are going to be hard-wired into your home’s electrical system and/or be part of a security alarm system, make sure they have a battery backup. Carbon monoxide can be produced whether your power is on or not.
Buy the same number of CO detectors as smoke detectors
You should have carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your house and outside every bedroom, just like smoke detectors.
Understand that reliability problems and nuisance alarms are a thing of the past…
Early carbon monoxide detectors didn’t last long and produced a number of false alarms. These days you can count on the detector lasting at least five years (be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for exactly how long) and will usually only go off in response to dangerous amounts of CO.
…but place your detector to avoid nuisance alarms anyway.
Just as you wouldn’t put your smoke detector right over your stove, there are zones you should avoid when you’re placing a CO detector. If possible, mount the detector at least 15 to 20 feet away from any appliance or equipment that might produce carbon monoxide. The reason? Almost all appliances that use combustion produce small, harmless amounts of carbon monoxide that will set off a detector which is mounted nearby. High humidity can sometimes set off CO detectors—though this isn’t as common as it used to be—so don’t place the detector in or just outside a bathroom.
Remember that carbon monoxide will rise
Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air. Moreover, CO is produced by combustion, so the fumes are usually heated. Just like smoke detectors, CO detectors should be mounted high on the wall and you should keep an eye to where fumes might rise from and rise to when you choose the final position. The perfect place for your basement CO detector (according to detector manufacturers) is at the top of the basement stairs.
Know the sounds and procedures
Your CO detectors should have a different alarm sound than your smoke detectors and you should know and be able to easily identify which one is going off. Know what the low battery alert sounds like as well. Some models of CO detector require occasional cleaning or other minor maintenance; read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
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