Family safety in the New Year: Carbon monoxide (CO) detector tips

Consumer Reports News: January 05, 2010 11:43 AM

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of fuel combustion, present whenever fuel is burned. Typical sources are gas-fired appliances, including dryers and furnaces, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces, and motor vehicles.

Install carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide poisoning often occurs when people are asleep. Because of the colorless and odorless nature of the gas, many people don't realize they are being poisoned. That makes it critical to install carbon monoxide detectors outside bedroom areas and on each level of your home. The detectors should be able to detect both low and high concentrations of carbon monoxide, because low concentrations over a long period of time are just as dangerous as high exposures over a short period. Proper placement is essential for these detectors to work, so be sure to read the owner's manual before you install them. (See more smoke and CO detector installation advice.)

Maintain your carbon monoxide detectors. When you change the batteries on your smoke detectors (see smoke detector tips), change them on your carbon monoxide detectors, as well. Carbon monoxide detectors should last five years, so check the label on the bottom of detectors and replace any that are older than that. (See our carbon monoxide alarm video.)

Know carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. At lower levels of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can be mistaken for the flu. The symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and irregular breathing. But some people have no symptoms—another reason detectors are important.

If you have any doubt about whether you have the flu or carbon monoxide poisoning, you should evacuate your home, call your local emergency number, and stay away from your home until someone from the fire department says it's safe to return there.

Check heating appliances for leaks. A faulty furnace or fuel-burning heater can result in a carbon monoxide leak.  You should have a professional service person inspect all your heating appliances, including their mechanical components, thermostat controls, and automatic safety devices, every year.

See the Consumer Reports Guide to Childproofing & Safety for more great child safety tips, available in our bookstore or at retailers nationwide.

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