A Happy Holiday Begins at Home -- With a Working CO Detector

On Thanksgiving Day, a Honeywell carbon monoxide detector saved at least one life in St. Joseph County, Indiana. 

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When firefighters from the Clay Township Fire Department responded to a seemingly routine call of a man experiencing chest pains, the department’s Honeywell ToxiRAE CO detector went into immediate alarm. The detector displayed a carbon monoxide reading of 400 ppm - 10 times the danger level defined by OSHA warranting evacuation.

Firefighters quickly removed three people from the home, including one person who was in the basement and unresponsive. Had firefighters not been alerted to the true cause of the emergency — dangerously high CO readings — they may have tended only to the man with the chest pains, and the person in the basement may have been overlooked. At 400 ppm, human life can become endangered within a few hours.

The carbon monoxide detector in the home was not in working condition, which unfortunately is not unusual. According to one fire chief, up to 30% of CO detectors in residences are inoperable, usually because of depleted batteries or degraded sensors. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning sends more than 20,000 people to the emergency room and kills over 400 people each year. This toxic gas is invisible, colorless and odorless. And the effects of CO poisoning can be subtle or mistaken for winter flu: headaches, nausea and energy loss are common symptoms. The CDC estimates that more than 40% of reported cases of CO exposure occur during the winter.

Tips For Your Home

Homeowners should inspect the condition of their furnace and heating systems when making a list and checking it twice this holiday season.

HVAC experts advise taking some simple precautions:

  • Check the furnace exhaust system and chimney for leaks and soot build-up, optimal performance and proper venting of exhaust gas.  A blocked chimney created by a bird’s or squirrel’s nest, for example, can send exhaust backdraft into the home. And the new, high-efficiency gas and oil furnaces may not perform so well when fitted with older chimneys.
  • Settle only for safe, effective, professional servicing of the heating system. Consider adding a security monitoring system like the one from Honeywell and include carbon monoxide monitoring in the mix.
  • Test CO monitors according to user manual instructions. Not all CO detectors are alike; consumer models vary in detection range, performance and lifespan, service scheduling and features.
  • Make sure CO monitors are installed in multiple locations throughout your home, a practice recommended to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). Must-have locations include: outside the doors of sleeping areas; on each floor of the home; and near fuel-burning sources (furnace, kitchen stove, clothes dryer).