While winter isn’t technically here in North America, you’d be hard pressed to tell by looking out your window.  With the cold weather associated with winter, carbon monoxide information will start to creep into your local and national newscasts.  In most cases, that information is good and accurate.  Sometimes, however, some of the myths surrounding carbon monoxide still get passed around, even from trusted media sources.  So as far as I’m concerned, here’s the three most important things you should know about carbon monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide is Present in Your Home and Business Every Day

First off, it’s very important to understand that carbon monoxide (abbreviated as CO) doesn’t simply “show up” and cause your alarm to go off.  Unlike the smoke that causes smoke detectors to sound, carbon monoxide is always present in the air we breathe.  Secondly, even modestly elevated levels over short periods of time are not harmful to humans.

What causes problems, and what causes most modern carbon monoxide detectors to fire alerts is rising carbon monoxide levels over an extended period of time.  It’s in these kinds of situations that it can become dangerous, and in fact deadly.  To understand this, you can think of what is a common root cause of carbon monoxide poisoning: combustion engines running in confined spaces.  You may well have heard that you shouldn’t run your car in a closed garage.  Similarly, you shouldn’t use a portable generator indoors, even in a closed garage.  Those two scenarios cause rapid and consistent elevations of carbon monoxide, and very hazardous conditions for a family, and their pets.

Dangerous Carbon Monoxide Levels

Again, approximates only. Please research levels in your home carefully, and ask questions about carbon monoxide levels.

The Center for Consumer Product Safety estimates that several hundred people die in the United States annually from carbon monoxide poisoning, and several thousand are hospitalized (source)

So what is the normal level of carbon monoxide?  CO is measured in parts per million, or PPM.  This figure essentially indicates how many carbon monoxide molecules exist in a sample of 1,000,000 molecules of air.  Generally speaking, CO levels in a home are normally .5 to 5 PPM, which is obviously a very small amount.

Where you need to be careful is as you approach 70PPM.  That would be a dangerous number for some people, especially those individuals with heart conditions.  130 PPM can be potentially fatal to almost anyone.

Sources of Elevated Carbon Monoxide

As mentioned earlier, winter and cold weather tend to be common factors in carbon monoxide poisoning incidents.

In large part, this is because furnaces and fire places start to be used, and blockages in ventilation can cause dangerous carbon monoxide build ups.  So if you’re using a virtual-carbon-monoxide-inspectorportable carbon monoxide detector such as our Inspector Series, or even our Sensordrone with the CO Inspector app on your smart phone, looking around these areas with the unit is a good start.

Many times, a closed flu, whether its unintentionally left closed or somehow mechanically stuck can cause elevated CO levels in a home.  Further, build ups in chimneys can restrict air flow, and cause issues.  Check with a local chimney professional if you suspect a problem with your furnace or fire place.  NOTE:  If your CO alarm is going off, your first course of action should be leaving the home or facility, as opposed to looking for a solution.  A solution can be found later, once everyone is safe.


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