Why should I install a carbon monoxide detector?

According to NHS figures, around 60 people die from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning each year across England and Wales. Carbon monoxide poses a serious home safety issue, as it’s impossible to notice with the human senses: it’s colourless, odourless, tasteless and non-irritant. Fortunately, a CO detector fitted with an alarm can save lives.

What is a carbon monoxide detector?

Today, carbon monoxide detectors are widely used home safety devices. These useful little boxes are equipped with an alarm that sounds as soon as the device detects unsafe levels of carbon monoxide near where it’s installed in your home.

To ensure you’re always rapidly alerted if carbon monoxide levels start to rise in your home, make sure you install a CO detector in any room that contains an appliance that burns solid fuel (for example, a heater that runs on wood).

To be as efficient as possible, you should ideally place your CO detector between 1 and 3 metres from each solid fuel appliance, at eye level on the wall. Given the dangerousness of carbon monoxide, as of October 2015, in the UK it’s mandatory for landlords to install a CO detector in each room in their properties that is used as a living area and has a solid fuel appliance.

Carbon monoxide detectors are a key ally in ensuring your home safety. They also offer real peace of mind, as you can rest assured that you’ll be alerted as soon as there are rising CO levels in your home.

Even if you don’t use an appliance at home that could emit carbon monoxide, your neighbours might. If you live in an apartment building, for example, CO gas can quickly spread to other apartments. So, it’s always wise to install your own CO detector at home.

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A carbon monoxide detector doesn’t need to be serviced once it’s installed. Just test it annually and make sure its battery is always charged.

Why is carbon monoxide a dangerous gas?

In order to really get to grips with carbon monoxide detectors, it’s important to define the properties and effects of the dangerous gas that they’re designed to detect.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) - not to be confused with carbon dioxide (CO2) - is a gas that can’t be seen or smelled. However, it’s toxic, and even potentially fatal, if humans are exposed to it in a relatively high concentration in a confined space, or we breathe it in for a prolonged time period.

To go into more scientific detail, carbon monoxide gas is the gaseous form of a molecule consisting of one carbon atom (C) and one oxygen atom (O).

CO gas can emanate from the combustion of wood, gas such as butane, propane or natural gas, coal, and even petroleum by-products such as gasoline or fuel oil. This is why it’s not only heaters that can emit CO: cars, motorcycles, generators, fireplaces or braziers are also worth keeping a very close eye on.

However, not all combustion processes produce carbon monoxide. This gas is only produced during a process of incomplete fuel combustion. In other words, CO is emitted during “bad” combustion, which can be caused by misuse of home appliances that burn solid fuel, or the appliances being old and worn out, or having blocked exhaust ducts.

Carbon monoxide is the main cause of poisoning in industrialised countries

This gas poses such a serious problem as, in addition to being harmful, it diffuses quickly in the surrounding environment. This is why it’s long been the main cause of poisoning in industrialised countries.

As soon as it’s inhaled, carbon monoxide quickly replaces the oxygen that’s usually carried in our blood. This rapidly causes headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and even loss of consciousness.

The slightest of these symptoms should alert you to the fact that there’s a potentially dangerous situation occurring, especially if you’re using a heater in your home. A highly toxic gas, carbon monoxide most often causes accidents during the winter period, when more people use their heating appliances at home, and tend to keep the windows firmly shut.

For this reason, it’s important to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home before winter, so you’re alerted by its alarm at the slightest risk.

How does a CO detector work, and how’s it different from a smoke detector?

A carbon monoxide detector is not a smoke detector, since the 2 detector types analyse different gases to ensure your home safety.

Your carbon monoxide detector will sound an alarm as soon as it detects levels of carbon monoxide in the vicinity that are too high to be safe.

In practice, a chemical solution that’s included inside the device reacts on contact with carbon monoxide when the levels of this gas reach a critical threshold. The detector then produces an alarm sound, which alerts the people in the home to the otherwise undetectable CO gas.

A carbon monoxide detector is, therefore, a highly effective home security system. It’s equipped with a powerful sensor, which provides protection against any risk of CO gas poisoning.

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Smoke detectors and CO detectors are fitted with different alarm sounds, which helps to tell them apart when they go off at home.

How do I choose the best carbon monoxide detector?

High-end or more affordable, corded or wireless, battery-powered or battery-free. The list of features is lengthy, and you’ll be able to find a CO detector to suit any budget. You can find a CO detector in most DIY or home improvement shops, or simply buy one online.

Every product is different, although some smart CO detector models offer improved detection and, therefore, more comprehensive protection. Most brands offer a detailed description for their detectors, so make sure you read the details.

To choose the right product for you, it usually takes a little research. There are many carbon monoxide detectors on sale, and each device is relatively similar, but you may have certain requirements or preferences.

Regular maintenance of heating equipment and other home appliances is a prerequisite for reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. However, you should equip yourself with a carbon monoxide detector for the maximum level of security and effective protection against this harmful gas.