The Silent Killer: Carbon Monoxide
Battery-powered or plug-in CO alarms can be purchased for between $35 and $80. Buy one that meets the latest Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Standard 2034-1998. These provide a greater margin of safety and fewer false alarms than older detectors. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation. Also note the product's life expectancy so you can replace it when the time comes.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete burning of fuel. Victims suffer flu-like symptoms including headache, nausea, vomiting, and sleepiness. In a short time they can become unconscious and then die. Babies and small children are more vulnerable because of their higher metabolic rates; they use more oxygen faster than adults so they breathe in more of the CO gas.
Leading safety groups and the CPSC agree: Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector. It's best to have one on each floor. Be sure one is placed on the ceiling or high on the wall near your bedrooms.
Preventing CO Emissions at Home
Detectors are your last line of defense. To prevent carbon monoxide from invading your home in the first place, make sure your furnace, water heater, dryer, stove, and other fuel-burning appliances are properly maintained. The CPSC recommends having a qualified service technician inspect your home heating system annually. Chimneys and flues should be checked for blockages and leaks.
Call for an inspector if your pilot light or burner flame is yellow-orange instead of blue, if your furnace runs all the time, if your hot water supply is decreasing, if rust or stains appear on vents or chimneys, or if there is soot on your appliances. Any of these could be signs of carbon monoxide emission.
Don't leave your car engine running in the garage, especially if your garage is attached to the house. Entire families have been wiped out when someone left the motor on and fumes seeped through the home's walls.
Some newer appliances turn off automatically if there is a malfunction. Don't try to operate an appliance that keeps shutting off; call a repairman.
Some carbon monoxide poisonings occur during power outages when families turn to alternative heat sources, such as gas stoves or even charcoal grills. This should never be done; it is extremely dangerous. If you use a portable generator to provide electricity during an outage, keep it outside so the exhaust remains out there.
After you buy a CO alarm, call your fire department's non-emergency number and ask what number you should call if your alarm goes off. Post that number on your list of emergency numbers by your phone in case it's ever needed.
If your family experiences symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air and seek medical help. Even if your own symptoms are mild, your baby could be suffering more severe effects and need prompt medical attention.