Carbon Monoxide Testing
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a deadly poison commonly found in homes. This gas can be produced by kerosene heaters, wood stoves, water heaters, gas stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, and other appliances which burn fuel, and causes hundreds of fatalities and thousands of emergency room visits each year in the United States alone. Although carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, there are ways to test for the presence of CO in the home.
A carbon monoxide detector is one important tool in avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning. These detectors should be on each floor of a home, and are either plugged into an outlet or battery powered. The carbon monoxide detectors that run off of AC power take periodic samples of the air, and announce the presence of carbon monoxide. The battery powered detectors have passive sensors. These sensors react to prolonged exposure to the gas. All detectors should be Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved and not covered by anything such as furniture or curtains.
Carbon monoxide test kits can actually detect lower levels of carbon monoxide than the CO detectors. A test kit comes with a sensor button and a plastic badge. When the test kit is used, the sensor button is removed and snapped into the hole in the front of the badge. The badge, which has adhesive on the back, is then mounted onto a flat vertical surface in the area to be tested. The badge should not be placed in direct sunlight or near any chemicals such as solvents or cleaners. If the sensor darkens at all to gray or black within 15 minutes, carbon monoxide is present in a dangerous amount. Even a slight darkening indicates dangerous levels of the gas.
Preventing and decreasing carbon monoxide poisoning can be more difficult than testing for it, but can be accomplished with some professional help. Combustion appliances should be checked annually, and leaky chimneys should be caulked or repaired. Leaky furnaces must be repaired and all furnaces and heaters checked for backdrafts. Even tobacco smoke can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Another effective way to reduce CO levels in the home is to install door closers between garages and living spaces. Idling cars produce carbon monoxide, as do power generators and power washers, so if these are running outside your home, make sure doors and windows are closed. If space heaters are used, ensure that the CO from them is vented, and not being trapped in your home.
Carbon monoxide poisoning resembles the flu in its early stages. Dizziness is present, as are nausea and headaches. These symptoms will go away quickly with fresh air. Other symptoms of CO poisoning are fatigue and, in people with heart disease, chest pain. Protecting your home and family from carbon monoxide is essential, as the gas can kill without much warning.
Written by Bronwyn Harris
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