Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling combustion fumes. When too much carbon monoxide is in the air you're breathing, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs.
The most common source of CO poisoning is unvented space heaters in the home. An unvented space heater uses combustible fuel and indoor air for the heating process. It vents the gases it makes into the room, instead of outdoors.
One of the most common sources of exposure in the home is the gas or kerosene-powered heater. Gas-powered water heaters, stoves, and furnaces may also produce carbon monoxide.
If the carbon monoxide concentration in the air is much higher, signs of poisoning may occur within 1-2 hours. A very high carbon monoxide concentration can even kill an exposed individual within 5 minutes.
The greatest sources of CO to outdoor air are cars, trucks and other vehicles or machinery that burn fossil fuels. A variety of items in your home such as unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, and gas stoves also release CO and can affect air quality indoors.
“Emergency physicians usually see carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of one of two main culprits: One is when people warm up cars in a closed garage. The other is from unvented space heaters,” says emergency medicine specialist Baruch Fertel, MD.
Most people with a mild exposure to carbon monoxide experience headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Unfortunately, the symptoms are easily overlooked because they are often flu-like. Medium exposure can cause you to experience a throbbing headache, drowsiness, disorientation, and an accelerated heart rate.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can become deadly in a matter of minutes. If you suspect CO poisoning, leave your home or building immediately and call 911 or go to the emergency room. If treated quickly, the effects of CO poisoning can be reversed.
For those who survive, recovery is slow. How well a person does depends on the amount and length of exposure to the carbon monoxide. Permanent brain damage may occur. If the person still has impaired mental ability after 2 weeks, the chance of a complete recovery is worse.
The Best Way to Test for Carbon Monoxide
Because CO is colorless, tasteless, odorless and non-irritating, the best way to detect its presence is to use an electronic combustion testing instrument.
At sustained CO concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.
CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.
A carbon monoxide detector is a must for any home and just as important as a smoke detector. CO detectors should be placed near all bedrooms; they're the only way you will know if carbon monoxide is affecting the air quality in your home, and can help prevent serious illness and even death.
Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no odor, color or taste. You wouldn't be able to see or smell it, but it can be very dangerous to your health and even fatal.
The CO alarm sounds if your sensor detects a buildup of carbon monoxide in your home—usually before you start sensing symptoms. With a low CO level (50 ppm), it may take up to eight hours for the alarm to go off. Higher carbon monoxide levels (over 150 ppm) can trigger an alarm within minutes.
This battery characteristic can cause a smoke alarm to enter the low battery chirp mode when air temperatures drop. Most homes are the coolest between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. That's why the alarm may sound a low-battery chirp in the middle of the night, and then stop when the home warms up a few degrees.
No, carbon monoxide has no smell. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that's a byproduct of combustion. As a homeowner, this means it can leak from your gas furnace, stove, dryer, and water heater as well as wood stove/fireplace.
Opening a window will slow carbon monoxide poisoning, but it likely won't stop it. There simply isn't enough airflow through most windows to get rid of the poisonous gas, and it could take between four and eight hours for the CO to dissipate entirely.
Get into fresh air immediately and call 911 or emergency medical help if you or someone you're with develops signs or symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. These include headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness and confusion.
There's a myth that carbon monoxide alarms should be installed lower on the wall because carbon monoxide is heavier than air. In fact, carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air and diffuses evenly throughout the room.
The short answer is no, air conditioners are unable to produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide can only be emitted from fuel-burning devices. AC units run on electricity, so there's no possible way for them to produce carbon monoxide. This doesn't mean your home is completely safe from carbon monoxide leaks.
The Carbon Monoxide Detection Systems Checklist mobile app inspects Carbon Monoxide Detection Systems using an iPad, iPhone, Android device, or a Windows desktop.