Do you have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your house or apartment? If not, put it at the top of your “to do” list if you are a homeowner and your “call the landlord-property manager” list if you rent an apartment.
We mentioned how important and potentially life-saving these simple devices are in a column a few months back. Now, for many places they are also required by law.
Beginning Jan. 1 this year, every rental, hotel, apartment and remodeled home is required to have carbon monoxide detectors.
For owner-occupied single-family homes, Washington law already requires carbon monoxide alarms in all new residential construction.
Even if where you live doesn’t fit one of those categories — if you’re in a home you own and it isn’t new — we strongly encourage you to purchase a carbon monoxide detector. For safety’s sake, every place that people live should have one.
We’re glad the laws have caught up to our understanding of how deadly and pervasive carbon monoxide poisoning can be.
Sadly, just like the smoke detector before it, many lives have been lost as society has learned how critical detection for carbon monoxide is.
This should go unsaid, but we know human nature: Just because you’ve bought a carbon monoxide detector, you’re not any safer. Make sure it is installed and the batteries are changed out when you change batteries in your smoke detectors!
WHAT TO BUY?
Carbon monoxide alarms can be purchased at many local hardware stores and range from $25 to $50.
While combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available on the market and are acceptable by the new building codes, the folks at the Aberdeen Fire Department recommend purchasing separate detector units for your home or rental property.
“The detectors have different sensors in them and the life spans of the units are different. We recommend researching the detectors you are interested in and always follow the manufacture’s instructions for installation,” said Assistant Fire Chief Rich Malizia.
Install carbon monoxide detectors in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mounting height and location. If you do choose to purchase a combination smoke-CO alarm, make sure it is installed in accordance with requirements for smoke alarms.
Carbon monoxide detectors are not a substitute for smoke detectors and vice versa. Test both types of detectors monthly.
WHAT IS CARBON MONOXIDE?
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. That’s why it is often called “the silent killer.”
It is created when fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, natural gas, propane, methane or wood do not burn properly or are improperly vented.
When you barbecue outside in the summer or when you mow your grass with a gas mower, carbon monoxide is released. However, in both these cases, the gas easily dissipates into the outdoors.
Where the trouble tends to come is often in the winter, especially when power is out and people are grappling for a way to stay warm. Sometimes they use charcoal fires in their home or a generator on the porch that isn’t properly vented. They huddle by the gas oven or burn kerosene lamps inside. Sometimes people will warm up a car in an attached garage with the door shut and the gas seeps into the home.
In the last few years on the Twin Harbors there have been numerous situations with whole families becoming ill because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Across the nation, each year more than 150 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
This accidental poisoning comes from improperly installed or maintained or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. The appliances include fuel-burning furnaces, stoves, range tops, water heaters, fireplaces, clothes dryers and generators.
SYMPTOMS OF POISONING
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, confusion and nausea.
With much of carbon monoxide poisoning typically coming in the winter, often people can confuse the symptoms with the flu.
If you think you’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide, experts say it’s critical to get fresh air in your lungs as soon as possible and call 911.
PREVENTION IS KEY
Just like having a smoke alarm doesn’t prevent a fire, neither does having a carbon monoxide detector prevent carbon monoxide in your homes. But both can save lives by alerting you when there’s a problem!
However, it’s best to prevent carbon monoxide from being in your home to begin with.
The Aberdeen Fire Department gave us the following prevention tips.
• Have fuel burning equipment inspected each year by a trained professional to ensure they are operating properly. This includes fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves, clothes dryers, stoves and range tops.
• Never use your gas oven or range top to heat your home.
• Make sure all fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside and that the vent exhaust is clear and unblocked.
• Only use barbeque grills outside and away from doors, windows, vents. Never use barbeque grills inside the home or garage.
• Only use electrical generators outside in well ventilated areas.
• Never operate electrical generators inside your home, basement or garage. (One generator can produce as much carbon monoxide as 100 cars!)
• Open the garage door before starting your car. Move your car out of an attached garage immediately after starting it.
• Know the difference between the sound of your smoke alarm and CO alarm.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.
Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.