Carbon monoxide detector

Carbon monoxide detector

Overview
A carbon monoxide detector or CO detector is a device that detects the presence of the carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 (CO) gas in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after enough inhalation of carbon monoxide . Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect...

. CO is a colorless and odorless compound produced by incomplete combustion. It is often referred to as the "silent killer" because it is virtually undetectable without using detection technology. Elevated levels of CO can be dangerous to humans depending on the amount present and length of exposure.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Carbon monoxide detector'
Start a new discussion about 'Carbon monoxide detector'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
A carbon monoxide detector or CO detector is a device that detects the presence of the carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 (CO) gas in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after enough inhalation of carbon monoxide . Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect...

. CO is a colorless and odorless compound produced by incomplete combustion. It is often referred to as the "silent killer" because it is virtually undetectable without using detection technology. Elevated levels of CO can be dangerous to humans depending on the amount present and length of exposure. Smaller concentrations can be harmful over longer periods of time while increasing concentrations require diminishing exposure times to be harmful.

CO detectors are designed to measure CO levels over time and sound an alarm before dangerous levels of CO accumulate in an environment, giving people adequate warning to safely ventilate the area or evacuate. Some system-connected detectors also alert a monitoring service that can dispatch emergency services if necessary.

While CO detectors do not serve as smoke detector
Smoke detector
A smoke detector is a device that detects smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Commercial, industrial, and mass residential devices issue a signal to a fire alarm system, while household detectors, known as smoke alarms, generally issue a local audible and/or visual alarm from the detector...

s and vice versa, dual smoke/CO detectors are also sold. Smoke detectors detect the smoke generated by flaming or smoldering fires, whereas CO detectors detect and warn people about dangerous CO buildup caused, for example, by a malfunctioning fuel-burning device. In the home, some common sources of CO include open flames, space heaters, water heaters, blocked chimneys or running a car inside a garage.

Installation


The devices, which retail for $15–$60USD and are widely available, can either be battery-operated or AC powered (with or without a battery backup). Battery lifetimes have been increasing as the technology has developed and certain battery powered devices now advertise a battery lifetime of over 6 years. Some smoke detectors are equipped with an internal rechargeable battery backup that recharges when the detector is receiving AC power. All CO detectors have "test" buttons like smoke detectors.

CO detectors can be placed near the ceiling or near the floor because CO is very close to the same density as air.

Since CO is colorless, tasteless and odorless (unlike smoke from a fire), detection in a home environment is impossible without such a warning device. It is a highly toxic inhalant and attaches to the hemoglobin
Hemoglobin
Hemoglobin is the iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein in the red blood cells of all vertebrates, with the exception of the fish family Channichthyidae, as well as the tissues of some invertebrates...

(in the blood stream) with an affinity 200x stronger than oxygen, producing inadequate amounts of oxygen traveling through the body. In North America, some state, provincial and municipal governments have statutes requiring installation of CO detectors in construction - among them, the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 states of Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

, Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

, Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

, New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

, Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, Vermont
Vermont
Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state ranks 43rd in land area, , and 45th in total area. Its population according to the 2010 census, 630,337, is the second smallest in the country, larger only than Wyoming. It is the only New England...

, Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

 and West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

, as well as New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and the Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 province of Ontario.

When carbon monoxide detectors were introduced into the market, they had a limited lifespan of 2 years. However technology developments have increased this and many now advertise up to 7 years. Newer models are designed to signal a need to be replaced after that time-span although there are many instances of detectors operating far beyond this point.

According to the 2005 edition of the carbon monoxide guidelines, NFPA 720, published by the National Fire Protection Association
National Fire Protection Association
The National Fire Protection Association is a United States trade association that creates and maintains private, copywrited, standards and codes for usage and adoption by local governments...

, sections 5.1.1.1 and 5.1.1.2, all CO detectors “shall be centrally located outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms,” and each detector “shall be located on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the installation instructions that accompany the unit.”

According to the 2009 edition of the IRC, published by the International Code Council, section R315.1, "For new construction, an approved carbon monoxide alarm shall be installed outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms in dwelling units within which fuel-fired appliances are installed and in dwelling units that have attached garages", and section 315.2, "Where work requiring a permit occurs in existing dwellings that have attached garages or in existing dwellings within which fuel-fired appliances exist, carbon monoxide alarms shall be provided in accordance with Section R315.1."

Installation locations vary by manufacturer. Manufacturers’ recommendations differ to a certain degree based on research conducted with each one’s specific detector. Therefore, make sure to read the provided installation manual for each detector before installing.

CO detectors are available as stand-alone models or system-connected, monitored devices. System-connected detectors, which can be wired to either a security or fire panel, are monitored by a central station. In case the residence is empty, the residents are sleeping or occupants are already suffering from the effects of CO, the central station can be alerted to the high concentrations of CO gas and can send the proper authorities to investigate.

The gas sensors in CO alarms have a limited and indeterminable life span, typically two to five years. The test button on a CO alarm only tests the battery and circuitry not the sensor. CO alarms should be tested with an external source of calibrated test gas, as recommended by the latest version of NFPA 720. Alarms over five years old should be replaced but they should be checked on installation and at least annually during the manufacturers warranty period.

Sensors


Early designs were basically a white pad which would fade to a brownish or blackish color if carbon monoxide was present. Such chemical detectors were cheap and were widely available, but only give a visual warning of a problem. As carbon monoxide related deaths increased during the 1990s, audible alarms became standard.

The alarm points on carbon monoxide detectors are not a simple alarm level (as in smoke detectors) but are a concentration-time function. At lower concentrations (e.g. 100 parts per million) the detector will not sound an alarm for many tens of minutes. At 400 parts per million (PPM), the alarm will sound within a few minutes. This concentration-time function is intended to mimic the uptake of carbon monoxide in the body while also preventing false alarms due to relatively common sources of carbon monoxide such as cigarette smoke.

There are four types of sensors available and they vary in cost, accuracy and speed of response. The latter three types include sensor elements that typically last up to 10 years. At least one CO detector is available which includes a battery and sensor in a replaceable module. Most CO detectors do not have replaceable sensors.

Opto-Chemical


The detector consists of a pad of a coloured chemical which changes colour upon reaction with carbon monoxide. They only provide a qualitative warning of the gas however. The main advantage of these detectors is that they are the lowest cost, but the downside is that they also offer the lowest level of protection.

Biomimetic


A biomimetic (Biotechnology based sensor using cyclodetrins and a chromophore and a number of metal salts) sensor works in a fashion similar to hemoglobin which darkens in the presence of CO proportional to the amount of carbon monoxide in the surrounding environment. This can either be seen directly or connected to a an infrared source of photons such as an IR LED and then monitored using a photodiode. Battery lifespan usually lasts 2–3 years with conventional alkaline, but a lithium battery will last the life of the product. The biotechnology based sensors have a useful operational life of 6 years. These products were the first to enter the mass market, but because they cost more than other sensors they are mostly used in higher-end areas and RVs. The technology has been improved and is the most reliable technology, according to a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL Report 40566). The technology is the only one tested false alarm free and is preferred by those with larger facilties like hospitals, hotels and apartments that use air fresheners, alcohols and other disinfectants where the cost of one false alarm is very high. This technology was invented in the USA and is manufactured in California.

Electrochemical


This is a type of fuel cell
Fuel cell
A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used...

 that instead of being designed to produce power, is designed to produce a current that is precisely related to the amount of the target gas (in this case carbon monoxide) in the atmosphere. Measurement of the current gives a measure of the concentration of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. Essentially the electrochemical cell consists of a container, 2 electrodes, connection wires and an electrolyte - typically sulfuric acid. Carbon monoxide is oxidized at one electrode to carbon dioxide while oxygen is consumed at the other electrode. For carbon monoxide detection, the electrochemical cell has advantages over other technologies in that it has a highly accurate and linear output to carbon monoxide concentration, requires minimal power as it is operated at room temperature, and has a long lifetime (typically commercial available cells now have lifetimes of 5 years or greater). Until recently, the cost of these cells and concerns about their long term reliability had limited uptake of this technology in the marketplace, although these concerns are now largely overcome. This technology is now the dominant technology in USA and Europe.

Semiconductor


Thin wires of the semiconductor
Semiconductor
A semiconductor is a material with electrical conductivity due to electron flow intermediate in magnitude between that of a conductor and an insulator. This means a conductivity roughly in the range of 103 to 10−8 siemens per centimeter...

 tin dioxide
Tin dioxide
Tin dioxide is the inorganic compound with the formula SnO2. The mineral form of SnO2 is called cassiterite, and this is the main ore of tin. With many other names , this oxide of tin is the most important raw material in tin chemistry...

 on an insulating ceramic base provide a sensor monitored by an integrated circuit. This sensing element needs to be heated to approximately 400 deg C in order to operate. Oxygen increases resistance of the tin dioxide, but carbon monoxide reduces resistance therefore by measurement of the resistance of the sensing element means a monitor can be made to trigger an alarm. The power demands of this sensor means that these devices can only be mains powered although a pulsed sensor is now available that has a limited lifetime (months) as a battery powered detector. Device usually lasts on the average of 5–10 years. This technology has traditionally found high utility in Japan and the far east with some market penetration in USA. However the superior performance of electrochemical cell technology is beginning to displace this technology

Digital


Although all home detectors use an audible alarm signal as the primary indicator, some versions also offer a digital readout of the CO concentration, in parts per million. Typically, they can display both the current reading and a peak reading from memory of the highest level measured over a period of time. These advanced models cost somewhat more but are otherwise similar to the basic models.

The digital models offer the advantage of being able to observe levels that are below the alarm threshold, learn about levels that may have occurred during an absence, and assess the degree of hazard if the alarm sounds. They may also aid emergency responders in evaluating the level of past or ongoing exposure or danger.

Portable


Portable CO detectors are also available, these are typically used for professional applications or in some cases by consumers such as property managers for maintenance and diagnosis issues (i.e. sourcing a CO leak). Most offer real time measurements of CO down to a few ppm (usually shown on a digital display), and are more expensive than home safety CO detectors (e.g. ~$250 vs $25). Although Kidde & First Alert dominate the home detector market, there are several manufacturers of portable detectors, such as KWJ Engineering (Pocket CO), Quantum Group, Bacharach, Drager, Industrial Scientific, Fluke, RKI, Sensorcon, and Zellweiger. There are two types of portable detectors, one that is designed for aircraft, cars and trucks. They will warn the driver and passenger if there is a CO hazard. Another type is used by occupational hygenists and first reponders. Digital, fast responsing portable type CO detectors are usually a better choice for real time "on the go" applications as they respond to low levels of CO in seconds rather than minutes or hours (which is the case for UL2034 listed residential alarm).

Wireless


Wireless home safety solutions are available that link carbon monoxide detectors to vibrating pillow pads, strobes or a remote warning handset. This allows those with impediments such as hard of hearing, partially sighted, heavy sleepers or the infirm the precious minutes to wake up and get out in the event of carbon monoxide in their property.

Legislation in the United States


House builders in Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

are required to install carbon monoxide detectors in new homes in a bill signed into law in March 2009 by the state legislature.

House Bill 1091 requires installation of the detectors in new and resold homes near bedrooms as well as rented apartments and homes. It took effect on July 1, 2009. The legislation was introduced after the death of Denver investment banker Parker Lofgren and his family. Lofgren, 39; his wife Caroline, 42; and their children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8, were found dead in a multimillion-dollar home near Aspen, Colorado on Nov. 27, 2008, victims of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

In New York State, "Amanda's Law" (A6093A/C.367) requires one- and two-family residences which have fuel burning appliances to have at least one carbon monoxide alarm installed on the lowest story having a sleeping area, effective since February 22, 2010. Although homes built before Jan. 1, 2008 are allowed to have battery-powered alarms, homes built after that date need to have hard-wired alarms. In addition, New York State contractors have to install a carbon monoxide detector when replacing a fuel burning water heater or furnace if the home is without an alarm. The law is named for Amanda Hansen, a teenager who died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a defective boiler while at a sleepover at a friend's house.

In July 2011, California required installation of carbon monoxide detectors in existing single-family homes, with multifamily homes following in 2013.

External links