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Home Safety: Carbon Monoxide Testing

Whether you are a new homeowner or just concerned about your family’s health and safety, you should be sure to test your home regularly for carbon monoxide levels. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very serious illness with the potential to severely harm you and your family. Luckily, carbon monoxide poisoning is also highly preventable. In fact, you can help to protect your loved ones by conducting your own simple carbon monoxide tests at home.


What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is completely odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Produced during the combustion of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels, carbon monoxide is often produced by cars and trucks, wood-burning and charcoal-burning fires, and small gas engines. This gas is also released by a number of common household appliances, including:


  • gas fireplaces
  • water heaters
  • oil furnaces
  • gas furnaces


What are the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide?
If exhausted properly, carbon monoxide gas is not a threat to your health. However, if allowed to build up in an enclosed area, carbon monoxide gas can cause serious health problems in both people and animals. In fact, more than 2,000 Americans are hospitalized every year for carbon monoxide poisoning, and 500 more die as a result of this poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is very dangerous because it easily mixes in with the oxygen that you breathe. As a result, your lungs can become filled with carbon monoxide gas, causing oxygen supplies to be forced out of the bloodstream. This can lead to serious carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms including dizziness, nausea, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Continued poisoning can result in severe health complications, especially for the heart, brain, and other vital organs.


Testing For Carbon Monoxide

Test kits are available that can help you to test your home for possible carbon monoxide leaks. They are easy to use and very inexpensive: most hardware stores sell them for less than five dollars per test kit. These test kits consist of a patch that changes color when it comes into contact with carbon monoxide gas. Any sign of color change on the patch indicates that you could have a potential carbon monoxide leak. These carbon monoxide test kits can be used in any area of your home, but work particularly well to test for leaks in your furnace room, garage, or basement. In order to use these tests kits:


  • Remove the test patch from its packaging.
  • Remove the adhesive backing from the test strip.
  • Place on any surface in the area that you would like to test (such as a wall or countertop).
  • Wait five minutes and check the patch for any color change.
  • If you see any color change at all, correct the carbon monoxide leak as quickly as possible.



Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Over the past few years, numerous carbon monoxide alarms have come onto the market. These alarms monitor the air in your home on a consistent basis. If any carbon monoxide becomes mixed in with the air, the alarm will automatically sound. In order to protect yourself and your family, you might want to consider purchasing one of these alarms and installing it in your home.

Choosing a Carbon Monoxide Alarm
When it comes to choosing a carbon monoxide detector, you may become quite overwhelmed by the number of different styles and brands available. There are dozens of different alarms available to monitor your home for carbon monoxide gas, most of which range in price from $30 to $60. Here are some features to look for when it comes to purchasing the right alarm for your home:


  • Certification: Look for a carbon monoxide alarm that is certified by some type of standards association. Because carbon monoxide alarms are not regulated by the government, their quality can vary greatly. Certification ensures that an alarm has at least met some basic standards of efficiency. Look for certification from the Underwriter Laboratories, International Approval Services, or Canadian Standards Association.
  • Digital Read Out: It is a good idea to purchase a carbon monoxide detector with a digital read out. This will report exactly how much carbon dioxide is in your air. While this might not mean much to you, it can be helpful for emergency workers should you ever experience a carbon moboxide leak.
  • Plug-In Option: Look for a carbon monoxide alarm that can be plugged directly into an outlet. This saves you from having to worry about changing batteries in the alarm every three months or so. Additionally, most of these plug-in alarms have a battery backup in case of a power outage.


Installing a Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Carbon monoxide alarms can be installed on walls, ceilings, or in electrical outlets throughout your home. They don’t need to be on the ceiling like smoke detectors do, because carbon monoxide mixes evenly with the air throughout your home. When installing a carbon monoxide alarm, it is a good idea to place it in a hallway close to any bedrooms or sleeping areas. This will ensure that people will be woken up in the event of a gas leak.

Avoid placing alarms directly next to a gas fireplace, furnace, or other carbon monoxide-emitting appliance: this could result in a number of false alarms because these appliances occasionally emit safe levels of carbon monoxide gas. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely when you install your alarm; each alarm is slightly different and may require different installation techniques.

Are Carbon Monoxide Alarms Required by Law?
Carbon monoxide alarms are not required by law in every state throughout the United States. However, most states suggest that homeowners install at least one alarm in hallways surrounding sleeping areas in the home. Some states do have legislation requiring carbon monoxide alarms, including:


  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Alaska
  • Connecticut


Check with your local housing standards board for more information on carbon monoxide legislation.