5 Steps to Help Prevent Accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

(Family Features) Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, potentially deadly gas that can be produced by fuel-burning appliances. Stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and many other types of home appliances and cooking devices are potential sources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, responsible for more than 400 deaths and 50,000 emergency room visits each year.

Learn how to help protect yourself and your family from accidental CO poisoning with these tips from the experts at Kidde:

  1. Have All Fuel-Burning Appliances Checked Annually
    Know that any fuel-burning appliance is a potential source of CO, including but not limited to: gas stoves and ranges, fireplaces and furnaces. It’s important to have all fuel-burning appliances checked annually for any damage or possible leaks. Set a recurring reminder in your phone to make an appointment for a certified professional to check your fuel-burning appliances every year.
  2. Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms
    The only safe way to detect carbon monoxide in your home is with a working CO alarm. You should install CO alarms on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area. However, it’s important to remember CO alarms don’t last forever, and the units typically need to be replaced every 7-10 years, depending on the model. For example, new Kidde CO alarms last 10 years and come equipped with a sealed-in battery that never needs to be changed. As an added safety measure, the alarms also include an end-of-life warning feature, which alerts homeowners when the unit needs to be replaced.
  3. Avoid Idling Your Car in the Garage
    Even if your garage door is open, you shouldn’t leave your car running inside. Similarly, never leave your car idling in a carport. CO can quickly accumulate in the small space surrounding your car or leak into your home. Always be sure to turn your car off immediately when parked in the garage or carport, or simply finish your conversation outdoors or in the comfort of your home.
  4. Never Use a Generator Indoors
    When the weather gets colder, storms can sometimes lead to power outages, and people turn to portable generators to power their homes. It’s important to remember to always keep portable generators outdoors – never bring them inside your house or garage, even if doors and windows are open. The CDC recommends keeping portable generators at least 20 feet away from your home, doors and windows. Make sure to keep them at least 20 feet from your neighbors’ homes, as well. The same safety precautions apply to other portable appliances, such as portable grills and camp stoves.
  5. Know the Signs of CO Poisoning
    In addition to properly maintaining the devices and appliances that generate CO and installing working CO alarms, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning so you can get help before it’s too late. At high concentration levels, CO can be fatal in minutes.
  • Mild exposure: A slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms (but no fever)
  • Medium exposure: A severe headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate
  • Extreme exposure: Convulsions, unconscious­ness, brain damage, heart and lung failure followed by death

Beat the Beep in California

Under California Senate Bill 183, also known as the “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act,” which went into effect July 1, 2011, all single-family homes with an attached garage or fossil fuel source are required to install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms within the home.

However, many people don’t realize that over time, the alarms’ sensors lose sensitivity as dust and other airborne contaminants build up in the sensing chamber. As a safety precaution, Underwriters Laboratories standards require CO alarms to have a certain lifespan.

Alarms purchased to comply with the law that was introduced in 2011 will start sounding an end-of-life beep indicating the need for replacement at some point in 2018.

There is a difference between an alarm’s end-of-life beep and the beep indicating that there is a CO hazard or the alarm needs new batteries. The end-of-life warning sequence may vary slightly depending on alarm brand. For example, Kidde CO alarms purchased in 2011 will indicate the need for replacement by sounding an end-of-life warning beep twice every 30 seconds.

Knowing how to identify various alarm beeps can be key to keeping your home safe:

  • End-of-life warning will occur every 30 seconds
  • If the alarm has a digital display, it will display the ERR or END error code
  • Replacing the battery will not stop the beep
  • The beep will only stop when the alarm is out of power

It’s important to replace your alarm if you think it may be nearing expiration. Once alarms enter end-of-life mode, they can no longer detect CO.

How to Choose a Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Look for these features when purchasing a CO alarm:

  • Electrochemical Sensor: Alarms with an electrochemical sensor tend to be more stable in humidity and react well with temperature changes.
  • End-of-Life Warning: This alerts users when it is time to install a new alarm.
  • UL Listed: CO alarms should be approved by the Underwriters Laboratories. There should be a label clearly marked on the alarm.

Other features to consider:

  • Accuracy: Look for a statement on the package about the alarm’s accuracy level.
  • Digital display: A digital display screen shows the level of CO detected in the home and updates every 15 seconds.
  • Peak-level memory: This feature records the highest level of CO present, which can aid emergency personnel in determining treatment.
  • Plug-in with battery backup options: Alarm easily plugs into any outlet and includes a 9-volt battery for protection during power outages.
  • Voice warning: This feature announces that CO is present in the home in addition to emitting the traditional alarm beep.

Carbon monoxide can be scary, but knowing the basics of staying safe from the silent killer can help you and your family can breathe easy all year long. To learn more about CO safety, visit beatthebeep.com.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images (Kitchen)