Carbon monoxide alarms are a good idea

Carbon monoxide alarms are a good idea

“I recently heard that many residential building codes in the country are starting to require carbon monoxide alarms in all new homes. This seems like a ridiculous requirement for homes that are all electric.”

I like to think of carbon monoxide alarms as seat belts in cars. You may never need it, but when you do, it may save your life.

Now the North Carolina Residential Building Code requires carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in all new homes. The inclusion of all homes ensures that if a family installs a gas appliance or attaches a garage at a later date, their family will already be better protected with a carbon monoxide alarm. When power outages occur, people occasionally make dangerous decisions by using a camp stove inside or locating a generator too close to a window.

Most people know carbon monoxide as the "silent killer." It is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that is produced when fuel burns. That is only part of the story. Anytime gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, wood, coal or natural gas burns to produce power or heat, carbon monoxide is created. Examples that may be around your home include: the water heater, furnace, clothes dryer, space heater, grill or your car's exhaust. Think about fuel-burning equipment as a lung. A gas water heater has to inhale fresh air for combustion to occur, and then it exhales the gases that are produced, including carbon monoxide. The exhale is typically through a chimney, flue or exhaust pipe. Your home gets dangerous when the appliance or car exhales a little bit or a lot into your house.

What blows my mind is that for years I didn't realize that carbon monoxide can cause a number of health problems including headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Often it will cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after you leave the site. I had always blamed those symptoms on something else and had never considered carbon monoxide as a possibility.

Most carbon monoxide alarms don't sound when there are low levels of carbon monoxide in your home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that every year in the U.S., more than 20,000 people visit the emergency room for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I encourage family and friends to purchase a carbon monoxide alarm with a digital display. These types of alarms can be found in home improvement stores and cost about $40. The digital screen indicates the carbon monoxide concentration, but this will only be effective if you pay attention to it. Put it somewhere where you can see the display. If the display shows anything other than 0, something is putting carbon monoxide into your home and you'll need to figure out what. Perhaps your furnace needs to be serviced, or you forgot to turn on the exhaust fan while you were cooking on your gas stove. At the very least, you'll know there is a problem in your home that needs to be solved.

Whether you purchase a fancy monitor or a simple alarm, everyone should have a carbon monoxide alarm in his or her home.

Follow these tips from the CDC to stay safe:

Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.

Do go to an outdoor fresh air space and seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous.

Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window.

Don't run a car or truck inside of a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.

Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.

Don't heat your house with a gas oven.

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