Carbon monoxide awareness and tips for Texans

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By Terri Williams

It is important to check the efficiency of a carbon monoxide detector once a month.

On April 1, 2018, Texas passed a law requiring every residential and commercial structure with sleeping quarters and appliances that burn gas or fuel to install (and maintain) carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. Carbon monoxide is dangerous because, unlike other hazards, it is impossible to see, hear, smell, touch, or taste it. The CDC estimates approximately 430 deaths occur in America annually from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Following are several important things to know about carbon monoxide and how to stay safe.

Sources of CO poisoning

“Carbon monoxide leaks from household furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and other household appliances are rare, but such leaks are leading causes of carbon monoxide poisoning,” says  Mark Dawson, COO at One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning.  “This is because carbon monoxide leaks are difficult to detect without special alarms, and homeowners may only become aware of a leak when they begin experiencing symptoms.”

CO poisoning can also result from using a gas oven to heat a home, having a dirty chimney, and running a vehicle while it’s in the garage.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of CO poisoning are often similar to having the flu: weakness, headache, upset stomach, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, and chest pain. Breathing in large amounts of CO can result in losing consciousness and, in worse cases, can lead to death.

Risk factors

Everyone is susceptible to CO poisoning; however, small children, the elderly, and those with breathing problems are more likely to suffer the effects of CO. Additionally, CO poisoning can occur while residents are asleep and can lead to death without waking up those affected. The CDC reports more than 2,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year from CO poisoning in non-fire-related incidents.

CO detectors

Dawson says a CO alarm is critical since it’s the only way to detect CO early enough. “Just like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors can alert everyone in the household to even a small leak and can save lives if leaks occur when everyone in the house is asleep,” Dawson explains. “Even if the symptoms gradually disappear on their own, carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious medical event that requires treatment.”

There are several types of CO detectors. According to Dawson, “While they all have varying levels of sophistication, all models will alert you if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide accumulate.” Following are some of the options to choose from:

  • Dual-function: “Some carbon monoxide detectors also have smoke detectors or other gas sensors built-in,” Dawson says.
  • Digital: “These devices have a digital screen to show you levels of carbon monoxide in your home.”
  • Smart: Dawson says smart carbon monoxide alarms are the most advanced option on the market. “They do their own diagnostics to make sure they’re working properly and sync with home automation apps so you can monitor your home from afar.”
  • Hardwired:  These CO detectors don’t use batteries. Instead, they’re wired into the home’s electrical grid. “Unless the power goes out, you won’t have to worry about devices losing battery and failing to work.”
  • Battery-operated: This type is as basic as they come. Battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors may or may not have a digital screen. Residents will need to check the batteries every three months to ensure the detectors are working properly.

Dawson also provides the following tips for CO detectors:

  • Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
  • It’s a good idea to test your CO detector monthly. Start by pressing the “test” button to ensure the siren works. If your detector is older, you may have to purchase a carbon monoxide test kit to ensure that it’s fully functional. If the detector doesn’t go off when you test it, it’s probably time to buy a new one. Replace your CO detector every five years.
  • Place your detector where it will wake you up if the alarm goes off, such as outside your bedroom. The correct installation and placement of CO detectors is crucial to ensuring that you and your family stay alerted to — and protected from — this hazard.
  • Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This detector can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming.

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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