What falls through the cracks

Author: Evergreen Home Inspection |

Blog by Evergreen Home Inspection

This information is from the book I wrote for home buyers a couple of years back. This was from the Chapter “What falls through the cracks”

Carbon monoxide detectors may not be required in many states, but I recommend you install them prior to moving in. Consult your fire department for suggested (or required) locations. Don’t put one right next to the heating system. Replace all units over five years of age. BOX/HIGHLIGHT

IMPORTANT! Carbon monoxide detectors are intended to prevent people from dying due to high CO levels. Most are designed to go off if the levels rise above 30 PPM (parts per million) for a specified time. What they are not designed to do is detect the lower levels that will seriously affect the health of the home’s occupants and possibly leave them with chronic respiratory or other health problems. Why is this? The reason stems from the fact that, due to temperature inversions that occasionally occur, the CO levels the outside air can, for a short time (a week or so?) can exceed 20 ppm. When this happened in Chicago some years back many of the early generation CO detectors went off and the fire department spent long days responding to calls from homeowners who thought they were being poisoned from internally generated CO. Out of necessity, the carbon monoxide detectors now sold to the public will sound alarms only when they detect levels that are higher than possible background levels of CO.

The problem with UL listed alarms then, is that they're meant to offer protection to healthy adults when fairly high levels of CO are present. So how much CO does a UL listed alarm allow you to breathe before it goes off? Here's what UL standard 2034 allows:

  • 30 ppm for up to 30 days
  • 70 ppm for up to 4 hours
  • 150 ppm for up to 50 minutes
  • 400 ppm for up to 15 minutes

Obviously, you can have a significant exposure before any alarm warning goes off. Chronic exposure to even low levels of carbon monoxide may cause brain damage, anemia, and respiratory problems such as bronchitis and emphysema. The elderly, pregnant women, and young children are more susceptible to health problems due to exposure to low levels of CO.

What can you do? First, have your heating system serviced annually. If you have direct vented systems keep all the outside vent hoods clear of ice and snow. Third, be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning as they are very similar to what people feel when they have a bad flue; if you feel better when you leave the home something is probably wrong. Lastly, you can purchase ‘low alarming CO detectors’ that will alert you when low levels are present. These are more expensive than standard CO detectors and you won’t find these in stores.

One good source is Tru Tech Tools (www.trutechtools.com). For other sources, just google "Low-level CO detectors".