With the winter season in full swing, the use of wood burning stoves, natural gas fired furnaces and fuel oil burners will increase dramatically throughout the majority of the nation. Increased reports of carbon monoxide poisoning and related death expectancies are higher. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), about 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment.
As professional life safety and security system installers we are often called upon to install carbon monoxide detectors, aimed at detecting this silent killer. Yet, significant confusion on proper placement, correct testing and dispatch procedures have left many in the industry guessing on how to best handle these devices.
Characteristics of carbon monoxide poisoning
What is carbon monoxide (CO) and how is it produced?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless and odorless poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion, engine-powered equipment such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers and power washers also produce CO.
What are some of the symptoms of CO poisoning?
Because CO is undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed to it. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu and include:
• Shortness of breath
High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:
• Mental confusion
• Loss of muscular coordination
• Loss of consciousness
• Ultimately death
Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused and lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.
Understanding carbon monoxide detection
Installers need to be aware of the two different Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) standards that exist regarding carbon monoxide detection.
UL 2034 - Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms, which pertains to electrically operated single and multiple station carbon monoxide (CO) alarms intended for protection in ordinary indoor locations of dwelling units.
UL 2075 - Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors, which pertains to detectors intended for monitoring the environment and detectors intended for open area protection and for connection to a compatible power supply or control unit for operation as part of gas detection or emergency signaling systems.
Carbon monoxide detector placement
The CPSC recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034. The CPSC also recommends that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, while UL recommends placing carbon monoxide detectors within hearing range of each sleeping area. Additionally, UL recommends placement near, but not directly above, combustion appliances such as furnaces and water heaters, near fire places or in the garage. UL also discourages placement of detectors within five feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas where household chemicals and bleach are stored. Detectors may be placed near the floor or near the ceiling since carbon monoxide has nearly the same density as air.