Carbon monoxide (abbreviated CO) is a deadly gas. And it’s made more dangerous because it’s completely invisible to all of the human senses. We can’t smell it, taste it, touch it or see it and it makes no sound.
That’s why every home in Northern California with gas appliances (like furnaces) should have a carbon monoxide detector, alarm or monitor. It’s the only way to know if you’re at danger.
So to help you out, we wrote this brief introductory article on the difference between the two types of carbon monoxide detection devices.
How carbon monoxide is measured
Before we get into what to look for when purchasing carbon monoxide detectors, it will help if you understand how carbon monoxide is measured.
CO is measured in a ratio called ppm (parts per million). Just as 5% means 5 out of a 100, 5 ppm means 5 out of 1 million. So if your home has 10 ppm of carbon monoxide, there is 10 carbon monoxide molecules for every million molecules in the air.
How much CO is too much?
Even in homes without gas appliances, there could be CO. So how do you know how much is too much? It depends on your age, size and health. Here are some common thresholds of carbon monoxide.
- 0.5-5 ppm – According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is the usual range for homes without gas stoves or other gas appliances.
- Under 70 ppm – Most people have no ill effects when exposed to ranges below 70 ppm for short periods of time. Prolonged exposure (6-8) hours can cause dizziness and headaches. Also, those with heart problems may experience chest pain, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
- 100 ppm – Slight headache when exposed for 2 hours or longer.
- 150-200 ppm – Prolonged exposure at these levels often leads to disorientation and unconsciousness and can also lead to death.
Types of carbon monoxide detectors
Now that you understand how carbon monoxide is measured, you’re better prepared to understand the two basic types of carbon monoxide detection devices: alarms and monitors.
Carbon monoxide alarms or detectors
These are the most common type of carbon monoxide devices. They work like your smoke or fire alarms, simply alerting you when it deems that there is a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide in your home.
However, long exposure to low levels of CO can be as dangerous as short amount of exposure to high levels. And most alarms and detectors only tell you about the high levels. That’s where the carbon monoxide monitor enters.
Carbon monoxide monitor
A carbon monoxide monitor is different because it actively monitors the amount of carbon monoxide in your air and gives you a digital readout. This lets you know when there are higher than usual amounts of CO in your home, even if they aren’t at what other alarms deem a “dangerous” level.
Which is better?
We encourage homeowners to purchase a carbon monoxide monitor, especially if you live with young children or elderly parents, as they can be more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. However, carbon monoxide monitors with digital displays can be more expensive and having an alarm or detector is better than no device at all.
For more information on how to protect your family from the dangerous invisible killer that is CO, check out this carbon monoxide safety flyer from the National Fire Protection Agency.
Service Champions North is devoted to helping Northern California home owners keep their homes safe and comfortable.