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Carbon Monoxide monitors have been around for years, but are one of those gadgets that I never gave very much thought too for a very long time. I knew they existed, yet my foolish supposition that the danger is so remote that it wasn't worth bothering about is exactly the same as the thoughts of those who have tragically suffered and died through exposure to high levels of the toxic gas. Although the risks are minimal, they do exist.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, (CO) is what is commonly known as the silent killer, it is a colourless, odourless gas given off by incomplete combustion of all carbon containing materials; fuels such as natural gas, paraffin, petrol, Calor gas, coal, wood and, would you believe, tobacco. When any of these materials are burnt in enclosed, poorly ventilated places, a build up of CO can occur to levels that could kill if not detected in time, because in high enough concentrations it combines readily with the oxygen-carrying component of blood cells (haemoglobin) depriving vital organs of essential, life-giving oxygen. Often, when the early symptoms of poisoning occurs, the brain, already starved of oxygen, is too confused to alert the potential victim of the danger they are in.
Who are at risk?
Anyone who uses wood burning stoves, are just as much at risk as those who own and use gas boilers for central heating and for heating water, gas hobs, portable gas heaters and oil and coal burning appliances.
Caravanners, campers and boat owners are also at risk when using LPG cooking appliances to heat their rooms, or using any fuel burning devices inside the cabins, without adequate ventilation.
It all sounds very scary, but what it really boils down to is that when flues, chimneys and vents are well maintained and the appliances are not at fault, then there should be no risk whatsoever of a build up of toxic levels of carbon monoxide. But and there is always a but, who can tell when an appliance is malfunctioning, or that a bird's nest has blocked a vent, chimney or flue? In many respects, it can happen to anyone and that is why having eventually woken to that fact, I purchased my Kidde 7DCO carbon monoxide alarm from Amazon at a cost of £15.99, post free.
The Kidde 7DCO Carbon monoxide alarm.
Weight (including batteries) 190g
Three AA batteries are supplied with the alarm, plus a small, comprehensive instruction booklet with advice on where the unit is best placed in boats, caravans and houses.
Noise level of the alarm, at 1 meter is 85Db
This neat little, neutral coloured box of tricks can be wall mounted or left free standing.
Two screws and raw-plugs are supplied which need to be fixed to the wall if the unit is to be wall-mounted.
At the convex shaped front, almost centrally positioned, is the LED screen, where the CO levels are displayed at all times. When the battery is low, 'Lb' is displayed on the screen and the small red LED on the far left of the unit, flashes red, chirping every 60 seconds. If there is a fault, 'Err' is displayed and again, the red LED flashes and gives out a chirp every 30 seconds this time. When the life of the unit expires, approximately ten years after commencement of monitoring, 'End 'is displayed, the red LED flashes and it chirps twice every 30 seconds.
On the left of the screen is a small, oval, green, power LED which flashes every 30 seconds throughout the lifetime of the monitor, this just indicates that the alarm has power.
There is a test button positioned towards the top of the unit, used when setting up, to check the system is functioning correctly. Below this is a Peak Level button which when pressed will display on the LED screen, the most recent CO level detected between 11 and 999ppm. Useful if there is a need to check levels occurring in your absence from the home.
At the rear is the battery compartment, covered by a back-plate with two holes set 7cm apart, through which screw heads are slotted to secure the unit to the wall once the batteries have been inserted.
The beauty of this particular model is that it is also freestanding and therefore portable, should you wish to take it away when camping or staying in hotels or chalets etc. I was thinking that had a young family holidaying in Greece, a few years ago had one of these in their apartment, they might still be alive today.
Installation is a perfectly simple procedure. The back-plate is removed and three AA batteries inserted before replacing the plate; when the batteries are inserted correctly, it gives a short beep. I must admit, I was not expecting that and nearly dropped the whole unit on my dog's head.
The unit is then placed in the appropriated position; either on a wall, or area at least 2 meters from any fuel burning appliance. If on the wall, then place it at eyelevel so that the digital readout can be seen.
Test the alarm by pressing the test button, the alarm sounds for 10 seconds if the system is working correctly. The digital readout on the LED screen initially shows '---'then '888' and finally it settles at '0'
One final check is to see if the green LED flashes every 30 seconds, best seen in the dark or shadowed area.
Dangerous levels of Carbon Monoxide.
Carbon monoxide levels are measured in Parts per million (PPM) which indicates how many molecules of CO are in a total of one million molecules. Up to 30 PPM is considered safe, after which it becomes increasingly dangerous.
The monitor is 'Time weighted,' so that at levels of say 50 PPM the alarm will start 60 -90 minutes after those levels have been reached. At 100 PPM, the alarm will sound within 10 - 40 minutes of those levels being detected, but at 300 PPM, the alarm will sound in less than three minutes.
Levels of CO versus effects on healthy adults.
For young children, pets and the elderly, the effects may occur at lower levels.
At 100 PPM, flu-like symptoms occur, slight headache, fatigue, nausea.
At 200 PPM, the headache becomes more severe and dizziness occurs within 2 to 3 hours of exposure.
At 400 PPM, drowsiness, increased heart rate and confusion, life is very much at risk after 3 hours of exposure to these levels.
At 800 PPM, the headache is more severe, convulsions may occur, and vital organs begin to fail. Death may occur within 2 to 3 hours of exposure to these levels.
Only recently and very tragically, a family were exposed to levels of 10,000 PPM in their home, none survived.
I found the monitor easy to set up and check, I prefer to have it freestanding rather than fixed to a wall. The level remains comfortingly at zero.
Now that I have a monitor, I wonder how I could have been so blasé about the whole issue of carbon monoxide production, exposure and consequences of inhaling toxic levels. I cannot say that I ever felt in danger before purchasing a monitor, but am very much aware now that I am safe, for there will be plenty of warning in the unlikely event of something going wrong with my heating appliance or the flues and vents becoming accidentally blocked.