Best Practices to Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your Clients’ Homes and Businesses

About 400 persons are killed in the United States every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while more than 20,000 victims are sent to emergency rooms due to exposure.

By Kurt Wedig

Take a moment to think about the number of smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors you’ve installed over the years. While smoke detectors conjure up images of fire and property damage, CO can be far more sinister, especially if left unmonitored.

To many home and business owners, their local installing security contractor is regarded as the expert when it comes to the technologies and solutions required to best safeguard their businesses, homes and loved ones. To fully protect their customers, it is critical that security dealers and integrators not only understand what CO is and why it’s dangerous, but be aware of best practices for monitoring and new solutions available to them that could potentially save a life.

CO is a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, and for all those reasons it is a silent killer. CO is a byproduct of combustion and is produced by the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon, such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal or wood. This means that common household items, such as gas fires, oil-burning furnaces, portable generators and charcoal grills put people at risk of exposure to this poisonous gas.

When breathed in, CO displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives a person’s heart, brain and other vital organs of the oxygen required to function properly. Prolonged exposure or large amounts of CO can overcome a person in minutes without warning – causing them to lose consciousness and suffocate due to lack of oxygen.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 400 Americans die every year from accidental CO poisoning, while more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to exposure.

Mind the Placement

As frightening as CO is, there are very easy steps security dealers and integrators can take to ensure their customers’ homes and businesses are protected and the occupants are alerted to the presence of CO. For starters, placement is key. Ideally, and depending on the size of the installation, CO detectors should be placed strategically throughout the home or building.

Best practices dictate that a CO detector should be installed in all the common areas, with at least one sensor installed on each level. Since CO is a byproduct of combustion, it’s best to deploy a sensor wherever there is a fuel-fired appliance. For example, wherever a furnace or other gas-powered machine is running, a CO detector should be installed nearby. 

Not all CO detectors are created equally, and this is one area where home and building owners should look to their local security dealer and integrator for guidance and expertise.

Current fire, security and even CO alarms are all reactive in nature, which means they’re great at informing you of something that’s happening but not so great at predicting when trouble is about to occur.

For the most part, CO detectors operate in one of the three following ways: via a biomimetic sensor, metal oxide semiconductor, or electrochemical sensor. Biomimetic sensors use gels that change color after they absorb a certain amount of CO. Metal oxide semiconductors use silica chips that send an electrical signal to trigger an alarm, and electrochemical models leverage chemical solutions and electrodes that release currents to sound an alarm.

CO detectors can be battery-powered or hardwired, and it’s generally up to the installer to decide which solution is best for the install. Standalone battery-operated units can be deployed almost anywhere in the home or business but should be checked every three months to ensure they’re functioning properly. 

Hardwired units, on the other hand, are tied directly into the electrical grid so homeowners and building managers do not need to worry about replacing batteries. They can also be connected to all the other detectors in the installation so that if one sounds, they all sound. Customers with a professionally installed and monitored security system can benefit from interconnected CO detectors that are integrated into their panel to call for assistance in the event they’re away from their workplace, home (or even asleep).

Predicting Danger Is Key

Although CO detectors have been a standard part of installations for the past 30 years, advancements are still being made to the devices themselves, and to the systems and solutions they’re integrated into. One example of these advancements is OneEvent Technologies’ OnePrevent system, which is predictive and preventative in nature vs. the industry norm of reactive systems.

The goal of the system is to predict danger before it occurs, and to do that, OnePrevent is equipped with a patented deep learning platform that accesses and adapts to its environment’s routines by analyzing changes in key measured factors, including CO levels.

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Current fire, security and even CO alarms are all reactive in nature, which means they’re great at informing you of something that’s happening but not so great at predicting when trouble is about to occur. In reference to CO, the OnePrevent system constantly monitors CO levels within the home via the OneEvent CO sensor that provides gradient-based environmental data back to the predictive analytics engine.

Once the system understands what the normal baseline is within its environment, it can predict and alert homeowners or building managers to an increased concentration of CO before enough has built up to trigger an alarm. Systems with the ability to detect and understand even a slight increase in CO volume enable greater protection and add time to act on a situation before it becomes a serious problem for occupants or pets. 

Stay Abreast of New Advances

Monitoring CO detectors is just as important as having them installed. A good step is to encourage your clients to regularly test CO detectors distributed throughout a property to ensure they will function properly in the event they need to notify occupants of the presence of CO.

A better solution is to install a system that is constantly monitoring factors, like CO, to eliminate the risk of malfunction. A disruption in the steady stream of data would indicate there’s something wrong.

Traditional systems and CO detectors have come a long way and still do an excellent job at alerting occupants to a harmful buildup of CO monoxide after the fact, but there is still some advanced features they cannot do on their own. Dealers should keep their ears to the ground for new and innovative solutions that can provide advanced warning and alerts.

Only through fully understanding CO and the dangers it poses to homeowners will security dealers and integrators be able to keep up with the industry’s best practices, which will make them better equipped to pick out and install the solutions best suited for the job.

Kurt Wedig is President & CEO of Mount Horeb, Wisc.-based OneEvent Technologies.


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