Most people wouldn’t dream of living in a house or apartment without a smoke detector. Neither should you dwell where there isn’t a carbon monoxide detector. It is also a key life-saving warning system.
Thankfully, the laws have caught up to our understanding of how deadly and pervasive carbon monoxide poisoning can be. Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, 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.
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 week we talked with Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard and Assistant Chief Rich Malizia about the importance of carbon monoxide alarms.
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,’” said Chief Hubbard.
“It is created when fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, natural gas, propane, methane or wood do not burn properly or are improperly vented,” he said.
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 Harbor 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, explained Malizia.
With much of carbon monoxide poisoning typically coming in the winter, often people can confuse the symptoms with the flu.
“People who suspect they are being exposed to carbon monoxide should immediately open the windows, leave the house and call 911,” Assistant Chief Malizia said.
WHAT TO BUY?
Carbon monoxide alarms can be purchased at many local hardware stores and range from $25 to $50. (Hey, there’s an idea for a Christmas gift for someone that’s hard to buy for!)
While combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available on the market and are acceptable by the new building codes, Malizia recommends 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 Malizia.
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!)
• Know the difference between the sound of your smoke alarm and CO alarm.
INSTALLING YOUR DETECTOR
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 and change the batteries each year.
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.