What to consider when purchasing a CO detector
At any level, the presence of carbon monoxide (CO) in a home is dangerous. Because you can’t see, taste or smell it, it can affect you or your family before you even know it’s there. Even at low levels of exposure, carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems, or even death.
So, how can you protect your family from carbon monoxide? The first step is to make sure that carbon monoxide is not present in the air in your home. The second step is to install one or more CO detectors in your home.
However, if you suspect or have any indications of low levels of carbon monoxide fumes in your home, you are advised to get professional testing for carbon monoxide as soon as possible.
Most CO detectors are designed to give an alarm when CO levels reach a high-level in a short time. However, health agencies advise that long term, low-level exposure are also of concern, especially for unborn and young children, the elderly and those with a history of heart or respiratory problems. Detectors that can display both high and low levels are more expensive, however they do provide greater accuracy and more information.
Features to look for and things to know when purchasing a CO detector:
- Look for a detector that is listed with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard. The logos of the testing agency will be on the product.
- Battery-operated units allow detector placement in the most convenient location. Like any battery-operated device, however, the user must ensure replacing worn-out batteries.
- Choose a detector with a memory to monitor long term low-level exposure and short term, high-level exposure. Even though product standards do not allow manufacturers to display low levels of CO, these units monitor and store this information. Peak levels, no matter what the level of concentration, can be viewed by pressing a button.
- Do not connect plug-in units to an electrical outlet that is controlled by a wall switch.
- No detectors will operate properly forever. Replace them at least every five years, unless the manufacturer specifies a shorter or longer life.
- Eventually, manufacturers may be required to print expiry dates on their CO detectors. This will ensure that you are purchasing an up-to-date product with a full sensor life.
Most CO detectors have a test button that should be pressed once a week to confirm that the device is in operation. Detectors with displays can be tested with a known source of CO such as smoke from a cigarette or incense stick. Hold the CO source about 8-10 inches away and watch the digital display respond to the presence of even a small amount of CO—BUT an alarm will most likely not sound with this test. There are CO detector test kits available, where CO detectors are sold, that provide a vial of high level of CO (1000 ppm) and a plastic tent to house the unit during the test. This test only proves that your detector will sound an alarm with a very high level of CO.