Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Gas Safety

Awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide is an important part of gas safety. As a colorless, odorless gas, carbon monoxide is a silent, invisible threat to your health. When levels of carbon monoxide (CO, in chemical nomenclature) in the air builds up to great enough concentrations in a flat, house, office or other indoor space, it can cause headaches, confusion, memory loss and, eventually, unconsciousness and death. Both acute (very high) levels over a short period and lower levels over a long period can have long-term effects short of death, including brain and heart damage.

When gas is burned in a furnace, oven or stove top, hot water heater, clothes dryer or other appliance, a small amount (usually 40 parts per million, or ppm) is produced. If the gas appliance and the room in which it is used are not ventilated properly, this small amount can build up over time. If the appliance is not functioning properly, particularly if the gas jets are corroded or partially blocked, the combustion will not be complete and the amount of CO emitted will be much greater.

Since CO cannot be seen or smelled, even dangerously high levels cannot be sensed through normal methods. Even symptoms such as headaches or nausea may be delayed or absent long enough that health damage can occur before anyone realizes that there is a problem. Instead, carbon monoxide detectors are vital to gas safety, as a means to alert occupants of a building that there are dangerously high levels of CO in the air.

A carbon monoxide detector is an important safety feature for any flat, house or building that uses gas-burning appliances. It should be remembered that smoke alarms are not CO detectors, and CO detectors are not smoke detectors; both systems should be used simultaneously to protect against two distinct dangers. CO detectors are not expensive, can be installed easily and require minimal maintenance.

There are three basic types of CO detectors currently available: biomimetic, semi-conductor and electrochemical. Each can monitor CO levels in the air and provide an alarm when they reach dangerous levels, but some models are also able to provide digital readouts to show levels below the concentrations of CO that would trigger a warning alarm. Many readout models also include a memory feature, which will show changes of levels, including peak concentrations, over a period of time. Most models require a continuous power supply, but some also include a battery back-up in case of power failure. Some CO alarms can be connected to a central alarm system, allowing off-site monitoring of conditions; this can be useful if an episode of an acute rise in CO renders the occupants unconscious before the area can be evacuated. Current models are usually rated for a lifetime of five to six years and should be replaced after that period.

A new CO detector will come with instructions regarding installation and location. In general, a detector should be placed in the sleeping area of a home or, if used in a working space, where the majority of the time is spent by the occupants. Detectors should not be placed directly above or within 5m (15 feet) of a gas-burning appliance; during the start-up phase of a gas burner (a furnace, for example) a short “burst” of CO may be emitted. While normal and, if ventilation is adequate, not dangerous to occupants, it may cause a false alarm to be sounded. Monitors should also not be located in humid areas, such as bathrooms and laundry areas, as high humidity will affect readings. Ceilings are not necessarily the best location for detectors; since the specific gravity of CO is approximately the same as air (0.9657 versus 1.0), the gas may not rise to the height of the ceiling before levels become dangerous.

Monitors should be considered to be important safety equipment, which means that they should be carefully maintained to provide maximum protection. Each monitor should be tested once a year. Pick a birthday or anniversary date as “testing day” as an easy reminder. If the model features a battery back-up, the batteries should also be replaced on that date. Monitors tied into a central system should be tested annually, with advance arrangement with the off-site monitor. Above all, monitors should be replaced well within their scheduled lifespan; their sensitivity will degrade over time. With a working, properly located and well-maintained carbon monoxide detector in the home or workplace, your safety and that of your family or co-workers can be increased.

 Laura Ginn understands the need to have a fully working carbon monoxide monitor in your hole in order to be up to date with gas safety. When you use the price comparison website, you can learn more about gas safety and how it applies to you.


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