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What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

How is CO generated in the home?

CO is a by-product of incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline, wood, or other bio-fuels. This incomplete combustion can occur in any device that depends on burning a fuel for energy or heat.

Examples of fuel burning devices:

Home furnace
Space heater
Decorative fireplace
Wood stove
Kitchen stove or grill
Gas/charcoal barbeque
Hot water heater

Automobiles left running in an attached garage, a portable generator operating near an open window or in the garage, an outdoor gas barbecue operated inside the house, a grill or kerosene heater that is not properly vented, or a fireplace chimney that is dirty or plugged may create unsafe levels of CO.

When these devices are properly installed, maintained and vented, the CO produced can be prevented from reaching unsafe levels in the home.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness, without the elevated temperature associated with the flu. In severe cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and death. The elderly, children and people with heart or respiratory conditions may be particularly sensitive to CO.

It can poison the body quickly in high concentrations, or slowly over long periods of time.

How do CO alarms work?

CO alarms monitor airborne concentration levels (parts per million) of CO over time, and sound an alarm when harmful levels are present. They are designed to sense low CO concentrations over a long period of time as well as high concentrations over a short period of time.

How expensive are CO alarms?

CO alarms range in price from approximately $26 to over $100 depending on whether they are hard-wired, battery operated or plug-in and whether they have additional features (i.e. battery back-up, digital display, etc.). The average mid-range plug-in/battery back-up model is between $35 and $40 per unit.

Why are CO alarms required to be installed adjacent to sleeping areas in the home?

Proper placement of a CO alarm is important. The CO alarm must be located adjacent to all sleeping areas of the home to increase the likelihood that sleeping occupants will hear the alarm if it goes off.

At what height should CO alarms be installed?

Unlike smoke, which rises to the ceiling, CO mixes with air. Hence CO alarms may be installed at any height. However, if a combination smoke/CO alarm is used, it must be installed on or near the ceiling as per manufacturer’s instructions, to ensure that it can detect smoke effectively.

Do CO alarms sound different from smoke alarms?

Yes. CO alarms sound different from smoke alarms when they activate. By introducing a new emergency device into the home, it is important that everyone in the household knows the difference between an alarming smoke alarm and an alarming CO alarm.

As well, everyone needs to know the difference between an actual alarm sound versus the low battery or end of life warnings for both their smoke and CO alarms.

Owners should consult their instruction manual to obtain further information on the characteristics of the audible signals for each device.

How does a CO alarm signal differ from a smoke alarm signal when it alarms?

According to the CO alarm standard, CSA 6.19-01, a CO alarm signal consists of 4 very quick beeps followed by a 5 second pause and then the pattern is repeated. This contrasts with a smoke alarm’s signal as defined by the smoke alarm standard ULC S531, which consists of 3 beeps followed by a 1.5 second pause and then this pattern is repeated.

If your CO alarm sounds, and you or other occupants suffer from symptoms of CO poisoning, what should you do?

Immediately have everyone in the home move outdoors and then call 911 or your local emergency services number from outside the building.

If your CO alarm sounds, and no one is suffering from symptoms of CO poisoning, what should you do?

Check to see if the battery needs replacing, or the alarm has reached its “end of life” before calling 911.

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