Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can be poisonous or even deadly. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning may be more common than you think. Did you know:*
- 50,000 people are hospitalized due to CO poisoning annually.
- 430 people die each year from CO poisoning.
Although worrisome, the good news is that you can monitor the deadly gas by installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
(Hint: Learn how your carbon monoxide detector works with your CPI system below.)
However, there is still a range of common questions and misconceptions about the elusive compound. Below, we’re answering some of the more frequently asked questions and providing tips on keeping you and your family safe from carbon monoxide.
Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Monoxide
What is Carbon Monoxide? Is it Heavier Than Air?
Carbon monoxide is also known as the "silent killer" since it's an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas. It's slightly lighter than air but not enough to rise to the ceiling in a room. Instead, it tends to disperse itself, mixing with the air and spreading throughout a space.
These traits are what make CO so dangerous: it's a poisonous, invisible gas that is undetectable to the nose or eye (hence the importance of CO detectors), and mixes into our normal safe air.
CPI Safety Tip: It is vital to have working carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. Many recommend placing them at least five feet above the floor or on the ceiling, however, it depends on your home and the location of certain appliances and vents. At CPI, we provide complimentary security and life safety consultations to see how to best customize the system to meet your needs. If you’d like help installing your carbon monoxide detectors, our expert technicians are ready to help.
Carbon Monoxide vs. Carbon Dioxide - What's the Difference?
Do you need to brush up on the difference between carbon monoxide & carbon dioxide? Time to head back to science class. The technical difference between carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) is that CO contains one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. CO2 contains one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms bonded to a carbon atom.
CO2 is naturally produced by organisms (like humans or puppies) and consumed by plants, which produce oxygen as a result of consuming the CO2. CO, on the other hand, is human-made, produced by the incomplete burning of organic matter.
Unlike CO, CO2 doesn't pose any threat or risk of poisoning inside the home.
What Causes Carbon Monoxide in Homes?
The burning of any type of fuel produces carbon monoxide, from gasoline and propane to wood. This can include furnaces, gas ranges/stoves, and water heaters. When these fuel-consuming appliances run in a closed or partially closed space, they can produce a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide that can build up to unsafe levels.
To prevent CO buildup and poisoning:
- Install working CO alarms throughout your home.
- Don't run a generator or other gas-powered equipment inside your home.
- Ensure your gas equipment and appliances are properly vented and allow air to pass through. This may require a qualified technician to ensure that they are unblocked.
- Never use a gas oven as a source of heat for your home.
CPI Safety Tip: CO can also be produced by fireplaces, generators, or even gas clothes dryers. Be sure to have all of your appliances regularly serviced to prevent harmful CO leaks.
What to Do if a Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off
If a CO alarm goes off, take action immediately! Ignoring an alarm can lead to death. Even brief exposure to CO can lead to health complications.
If you have a CPI Smart Security System and your alarm goes off:
Our 24/7 professional monitoring team will act quickly to verify the emergency with Real Time Response. Here’s how it works:
- If triggered, the CPI Carbon Monoxide Detector sends an alert to our Central Station monitoring center.
- The Central Station operator comes over the two-way speaker and warns those in your home of dangerous CO levels.
- While doing so, they’ll also dispatch authorities on your behalf so you can focus on evacuating safely.
- As you evacuate your home, our team will stay in contact with you over your panel’s speaker and/or your phone during an alarm – making sure they’re with you every step of the way.
Depending on the devices with your CPI system, you can also create automations that will turn on lights and unlock your door, making a more obvious exit route.**
Once you’ve left the home, do not reenter until emergency responders have confirmed that it is safe.
If you do not have a CPI Smart Security System and your alarm goes off:
Assume that it has gone off because it has detected an unsafe level of carbon monoxide gas. Everyone should leave the household immediately (including any pets).
Once you’ve left the structure, call 911 and do not reenter the home until the emergency responders give the all-clear that it is safe.
CPI Safety Tip: If you are unable to leave the building for any reason, immediately open all doors and windows, and turn off all stoves, grills, or any fuel-burning device while you're waiting for emergency responders to arrive.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
CO poisoning is caused when a person absorbs too much carbon monoxide. The gas builds up in their bloodstream, displacing the oxygen in their red blood cells. This causes a wide range of flu-like symptoms, including:
- Stomach Issues
- Chest Pain
CPI Safety Tip: Unfortunately, if someone is sleeping, they can die from CO poisoning before experiencing any symptoms or even waking up. Be sure to have a carbon monoxide alarm in your bedroom so that it can help wake you up in case of an emergency.
Other Commonly Asked CO Questions
How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Do I Need?
You need at least one for each floor of your home, including the basement. It's also recommended to have extra CO detectors where high levels of CO are more likely to be produced, like just inside the home from the garage, or the kitchen. It's recommended to have a CO detector in your bedroom as an added level of protection.
Will a Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect a Different Gas Leak?
No, it only detects carbon monoxide.
Does Propane Produce Carbon Monoxide?
Yes, the burning of propane does produce carbon monoxide.
Do Electric Heaters Produce Carbon Monoxide?
No, because they do not burn any fuel and are entirely electrically powered.
Does Carbon Monoxide Smell Like Nail Polish?
No, carbon monoxide is completely odorless. The smell of nail polish could indicate a leak in the refrigerant lines of a refrigerator or from the A/C unit. Call a local expert if you have any questions.
Can Dogs Smell Carbon Monoxide?
No, dogs can’t smell CO - which means they're just as defenseless as humans. As a reminder, always evacuate your pets if your CO alarm goes off.
Can You Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From an A/C Unit?
Technically, no. Air conditioners don't produce carbon monoxide or burn fuel, so you can't get CO poisoning from them. Heaters, however, can contribute to CO poisoning. Check your A/C and heating equipment to see if it is electric or gas. Any unit that utilizes gas - whether it is a split or packaged system - runs the risk of a CO leak. If you’re unsure of how your system works, have a certified expert inspect the system.
Can You Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From a Gas Stove?
Yes, gas stoves emit carbon monoxide when in use. Be sure to increase ventilation by using the range hood and opening any nearby windows if possible.
How Can You Tell if Your Furnace is Leaking Carbon Monoxide?
There can be a few different signs:
- Black, brown, or yellow soot stains around the furnace.
- CO is odorless, but if the furnace is leaking, it may give off a burning, overheating, or exhaust-like smell.
- If the furnace has a yellow flame instead of a blue one.
- Heavy condensation around the windows where the furnace is installed.
Do Candles Produce Carbon Monoxide?
Yes, but it's a minute amount, and even the mildest airflow will keep the CO from reaching dangerous levels.
Do Electric Dryers Produce Carbon Monoxide?
No. Electric dryers do not burn any gas or fuel, so they produce no CO.
At the end of the day, while there may be many questions about carbon monoxide, one thing is certain – the best course of action when it comes to protecting your family from CO is to add carbon monoxide detectors to your home’s smart security system.
**Note: This requires rules that must be set up by the customer. Additional home automation devices required. Automation features can be programmed from your computer or mobile device.
* CDC.gov, "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning."