Monsters under the bed aside, things you can see and feel are usually scarier than things you can’t. Fire? Obviously scary. Carbon monoxide? Many of us aren’t even really sure what it is, and since we can’t see it (or smell or taste it, for that matter), it’s easy to not worry about it.
But ignoring the dangers of carbon monoxide could put your family at risk. And in some places, it could even land you in trouble with the law. In Ontario, for example, carbon monoxide detectors mandatory are mandatory in most homes. Don’t comply, and you could be fined up to $50,000. But the fine is nothing compared to the risks associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here’s what you need to know about carbon monoxide detectors.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that can circulate through your home if something goes wrong with one of your fuel-burning appliances, such as your furnace, fireplace, stove or hot-water heater. It can also enter your home from your attached garage if you accidentally leave your car running.
Carbon monoxide is poisonous. Exposure can cause flu-like symptoms—headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion—but with no fever. In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death. There were 380 accidental carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in Canada from 2000 to 2009, according to Statistics Canada. Kids are at additional risk, says Carol Heller of Kidde Canada, Canada’s largest manufacturer of carbon monoxide detectors. “Smaller people are more susceptible a lot quicker,” she says. That means even if you feel fine, your child could be experiencing the beginnings of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Most people think a detector ought to be installed just outside the furnace room or attached garage. While it’s a good idea to have one there, it’s vital that carbon monoxide detectors be installed near bedrooms, or any rooms where people sleep, “to ensure they wake you up,” says Heller. There are various types of detectors—hard-wired, plug-in, with or without batteries—and at various price points starting at around $35. For families, Heller’s strongest recommendation is to choose a detector with a digital display. “The CSA requirement is they go off when carbon monoxide levels reach 70 parts per million. But kids can already be quite ill by then,” says Heller. Put a digital display detector near a bedroom and get in the habit of glancing at it when you walk by. “You’ll notice if it’s not at zero,” says Heller. Another installation tip: Ignore the oft-repeated advice that detectors should be placed low to the ground. “That’s a myth,” says Heller. “Carbon monoxide mixes with air, so you can place the detector anywhere.”
Nothing lasts forever—and that includes carbon monoxide detectors. They should be replaced every five to 10 years, depending on the brand, even if they seem to be working fine. Every approved carbon monoxide detector should have its manufacture date printed on it. “Check your detector today,” says Heller. “If it was made before 2008, replace it.”
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