Letter: Saving your family’s lives | VailDaily.com

Letter: Saving your family’s lives

You can save your family from death or brain damage from the silent killer carbon monoxide by reading this letter and understanding how carbon monoxide kills and carbon monoxide detectors work.

Carbon monoxide is a gas created by incomplete combustion as a result of a lack of oxygen. A lack of air can be from an undersized combustion air source, undersized or partially blocked exhaust fume path, a cracked heat exchanger in your furnace, improper air to fuel mixtures, etc.

CO kills by slow suffocation and usually occurs when people are sleeping. Carbon monoxide binds tighter than oxygen to the hemoglobin in your blood that carries the oxygen to the cells in your body. Low levels of indoor CO can build up in your blood and therefore long exposures to low levels can be harmful. Those most at risk are infants, the elderly and those that already have breathing problems. CO can results in headaches and flu-like symptoms.

Even though levels of 15 parts per million can be harmful, many store-bought carbon monoxide detectors do not sound a periodic chirp until over 200 PPM are detected for at least two hours. The alarm is usually periodic chirps that you might think is a low battery warning. 

I encourage you to buy carbon monoxide detectors that will alert when 15 PPM are detected for a few minutes. Yes, you need to carefully check the specs. Is your life worth an extra $90? Make sure you check the specs and buy low-level CO detectors such as the NSI 3000, Defender CD8180, Defender LL6070, Kidde KN-COU-B Ultra-Sensitive Battery Powered Carbon Monoxide Monitor or the Sensorcon Inspector.

The half-life of blood levels of carbon monoxide is around three to four hours in air and about 30-90 minutes if breathing 100% oxygen. Just going outside is the cure. If you experience high levels, breathing oxygen is very helpful and the sooner the better.

Install CO detectors above eye height because CO is lighter than air by about 3%. Many detectors have pull-out extension cords to plug into the 110 volt outlets located near the floor. CO detectors have a lifespan so write the date of expiration on the back and reinstall before the end of the life span.

Unlike old open combustion furnaces and boilers, high-efficiency systems have closed combustion systems. Therefore if the intake and exhaust ventilation tubes have no leaks there is a lot less chance of carbon monoxide entering your home.

Unfortunately, local energy technicians and the fire department were not properly testing for carbon monoxide. The improper procedures resulted in the near-death of my friend and the permanent loss of brain cells while staying in my guest room in Vail. These agencies were not lighting all fuel-burning equipment and letting it run for at least 15 minutes before testing for CO.  

Running the equipment for 15 minutes needs to occur because the intake air supply could be undersized if all fuel-burning equipment needs combustion air at the same time. After multiple emails , thankfully Eagle River Fire Prevention District Chief Karl Bauer stepped up and researched my suggested changes and concurred with my advice.

If you ever call anyone to test for carbon monoxide, I suggest that you personally observe their test procedure and educate them about proper testing.

Tom Ruemmler


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