Dear Jim: I read about a family killed by carbon monoxide poisoning while they slept. Our new efficient house is pretty airtight and has gas heat. How can I check for CO poisoning? -- Ann D.
Dear Ann: Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is truly the silent killer -- colorless, odorless and tasteless. Since its initial symptoms are similar to a cold or the flu (headache, nausea, tiredness), it may go undetected until it is too late. Always discuss any specific symptoms you have with your doctor.
Although an efficient, airtight house may allow CO levels to buildup from a malfunctioning furnace, water heater, stove, etc., there are many CO deaths in older, less efficient houses too. Any house with gas, oil, propane, wood or coal-fired appliances presents a hazard.
The best protection for your family is a two-step approach. First, install CO gas detectors/alarms in your home. Second, make sure to have all your heating/combustion appliances regularly maintained by professionals.
Most CO alarms are designed to monitor a single room or area. Obvious locations would be in bedrooms, kitchen and near combustion appliances. These are small battery or plug-in devices that often cost about $50. When a danger level is reached, a piercing alarm sounds and a light comes on.
S-Tech makes a CO alarm that is built into a standard bedroom clock radio. When the CO alarm goes off, it uses the radio speaker to give verbal instructions on what to do. The sensors inside the Aim Safe-Air unit are so accurate, that the company will pay a responding fire department $50 if there is a false alarm.
CO poisoning may sneak up on a family with elevated, but below alarm, levels for extended periods of time. Some CO alarms use a two-stage design. A light and tone will come on at a predetermined lower CO level to alert you to a possible problem. Some also have a digital readout of the CO level.
Some of the Kidde CO alarms have built-in memory that keep track of the peak CO levels reached and Aim models record the times of the day. This is helpful for professionals to determine the source and correct the problem.
In addition to small CO alarms in key areas of your house, installing a Watchdog central air cleaner will monitor the furnace return air from your entire house. A battery-operated alarm is built into the corner of the air cleaner. It is a standard one-inch air cleaner to fit all furnace slots.
If you have a security system in your home, consider a CO alarm that can be connected directly to it. Quantum makes both battery and hardwired two-stage models for this. To just do a spot CO check on a limited budget, they also offer inexpensive CO testing tablets. Change them as recommended.
Write for (or instantly download -- www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 838 -- buyer's guide of CO detector/alarms, air cleaners and tablets, stages and features. Please include $3 and a business-size, self-addressed stamped envelope.
James Dulley, The Buffalo News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.