Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the “Silent Killer” as it is odorless, colorless and tasteless, yet can have deadly consequences. Carbon monoxide is a gas byproduct of burning fossil fuels in your furnace, clothes dryer, fireplace, automobile, portable heater, generator or other small engines and home appliances. Most issues occur when the equipment is malfunctioning or is in need of service or repair.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in the blood, depriving the body’s organs of oxygen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guideline for the permissible exposure limit of carbon monoxide is 50 parts per million (ppm).1 Elevated levels (100 ppm) of carbon monoxide will start to impact the body and may cause dizziness, headaches, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pains and confusion. Higher levels (150-200+ ppm) can cause disorientation, unconsciousness and even death.2 Long-term impact could include loss of short-term memory and other brain or organ disorders.

The good news is that carbon monoxide can be kept in check and easily detected in your home.3

Preventing Carbon Monoxide in Your Home
Because most carbon monoxide issues occur when a fuel-burning source (furnace, clothes dryer, fireplace, etc.) is not working properly or is in need of service/repair, proper maintenance and use of your home systems is essential.

  • Have yearly maintenance contracts and inspections on furnace and chimney(s)
  • Make sure other fuel-burning appliances, like hot water heaters and gas dryers, are properly vented with no cracks, broken seals or blocked vents.
  • Don’t use generators and fuel-burning space heaters inside your home
  • Never leave your automobile running in the garage especially with the garage door closed

Detecting Carbon Monoxide in Your Home
Early warning of carbon monoxide in your home is critically important and can easily be achieved with the installation of a battery operated, plug-in or hardwired detector. Digital displays are best as they show the level of carbon monoxide and can be monitored for any fluctuation. Always read the manufacturer’s specification for placement and check with local codes for additional requirements, but here are some general rules of thumb:

  • Minimally install one carbon monoxide detector per floor and at least one outside each bedroom area or within 15 feet of bedrooms. IRC 315, which is part of the international building code, suggests minimally placing carbon monoxide detectors outside each bedroom area and inside any bedroom with a fuel-burning appliance.
  • Detectors should be located within 5-15 feet of garage and mechanical rooms on the interior of the home.
  • Detectors should be mounted 5 feet above the floor or at eye level on the wall.
  • Combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors should be mounted on the ceiling or 6 inches from the ceiling on a wall, or as required by local code.
  • If your local code requires combination smoke/carbon monoxide detection – follow the code for placement and number of smoke/carbon monoxide detectors as a minimum.
  • Batteries should be replaced each year and detectors should be replaced approximately every 5 years.

Rick Albers is Assistant Vice President, Senior Premier Account Specialist with Chubb Personal Risk Services’ Risk Consulting Group.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.