Friday, March 3, 2006
A homeowners guide to carbon monoxide detectors
It's a state law: all Massachusetts residences, including your own, must have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector by March 31 of this year. If your home is relatively new, chances are the detector was hardwired when it was built.
The hidden killer
No hazardous substance cries for an alarm more clearly than carbon monoxide: it is aptly called "the hidden killer" because it is potentially fatal at the same time as it is odorless, colorless, and gaseous. One cannot see it, smell it, or feel it. Further, one can be killed by it without even being aware it is happening.
Carbon monoxide is created by the incomplete oxidation of carbon in combustion. Since it is a product of combustion, it can occur wherever there are gas ranges, unvented kerosene or gas space heaters, chimneys, furnaces, generators. Gasoline-powered equipment, automobile exhaust, and tobacco smoke are all sources of CO, as is auto, truck or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads or parking areas. Adequate ventilation in areas where combustion occurs is the first line of precaution. Malfunctioning equipment is another major source of danger, and equipment, including detector batteries, needs to be checked and maintained on a regular basis.
CO is dangerous because it displaces oxygen in the blood and presents itself in the same manner as a number of other more familiar types of anoxia, such as dizzyness, drowsiness, confusion, and nausea. The concentration of CO in the air is directly related to the symptoms: moderate concentrantion lead to impaired vision, angina-like symptoms and reduced brain function. It is fatal at higher concentrations.
Which detector to get
According to Carlisle Fire Chief Dave Flannery, "Not every detector on the shelf will bring you into compliance." He said he found Home Depot stocked with three different CO alarm products this past weekend. Rocky's Hardware in Concord stocks five or six different kinds, including dual CO and smoke detectors, at a cost ranging from $30 to $50. Vanderhoof Hardware, also in Concord, stocks four kinds, ranging from about $25 to $55, and recommends a plug-in model that has a battery backup (in case of power failure).
Where to put it
The new regulations require one detector for each habitable level, within ten feet of a bedroom, and within 20 feet of a stove, furnace or space heater. When asked how hard it would be for the average homeowner to install one, Vanderhoof's man on the phone replied "Are you kidding? It's as simple as putting in a plug or battery." Inspection is required only when a house is sold, a system that was followed when smoke detectors were mandated. Flannery stressed the importance of following installation instructions that come with a particular detector. Call 1-978-287-0072 for help with any questions or problems about installing a CO detector or alarm.
What to do when the CO alarm goes off
When the alarm goes off, first check the parts per million (PPM) indicator to see how great a concentration of CO exists or if it is a battery failure. Call the Fire Department. The dispatcher will ask questions needed to assess the situation, such as the presence of any physical symptoms. Follow the dispatcher's instructions until the fire crew arrives and makes a site assessment and gives new instructions. For more information, see "Residential carbon monoxide alarms required by March 31," Mosquito, February 17.
© 2006 The