Keeping your household carbon monoxide-free


January 07, 1995|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

A snug, well-heated home is everyone's goal in winter, but all that comfort can have a downside. Winter is the main danger season for carbon-monoxide poisoning.

The carbon-monoxide peril has spawned a series of home alarms that can detect the gas before it reaches dangerous levels. Typically, a carbon-monoxide detector with an audio alarm costs about $60.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an insidious gas that has no odor, color or taste. It is a byproduct of heaters and other devices that run on flammable fuel. Among the sources of CO are gas and oil furnaces, space heaters, gas clothes dryers, water heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, gas ranges, charcoal grills and automobile exhaust.

Ways to help reduce the CO peril:

* Keep furnace filters clean. If the furnace has a standard filter, a monthly change during the heating season is recommended.

* Don't use a flame-type space heater in an enclosed space. Provide some ventilation by opening a door or window slightly.

* Make sure fireplace chimneys are clean.

* Clean clothes-dryer lint filters regularly and check the outside vent opening occasionally to make sure it is not blocked by lint.

* Never use a barbecue grill indoors or attempt to heat a residence with the burners or oven of a gas stove.

* Don't let a car idle in an attached garage.

Symptoms of low-level carbon-monoxide poisoning are much like flu symptoms and include headaches, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness and fatigue. Suspect CO if the symptoms are relieved outside the home, or if several members of a household have the same symptoms. A physician can check for CO in the blood with a carboxyhemoglobin test.

First Alert, a leading smoke-detector manufacturer in Aurora, Ill., was one of the first companies to make an affordable CO detector with audio alarm. The First Alert model, which looks much like a smoke detector and remains one of the most widely sold CO detectors, was introduced several years ago with a price of about $60. I've seen First Alert detectors recently with prices as low as $40. First Alert's detector is battery-powered and has a sensing module that must be replaced every few years. A new sensor costs about $20.

Plug-in detectors, priced at about $60, also are available. Brand names include Nighthawk 2000, by Nighthawk Industries, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Air-Zone II, by Enzone Inc., of Davie, Fla.; and Computerized CO Alarm from Jameson Home Products, Downers Grove, Ill. All of the plug-ins have permanent sensors; the Enzone and Jameson detectors have battery backups.

CO detectors are sold at home centers, hardware stores and department stores. If one detector is installed, it should be near the sleeping area. Many safety experts recommend a second detector near the central heater.

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