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Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors

Carbon Monoxide Detector
A carbon monoxide detector or CO detector is a device that detects the presence of the carbon monoxide (CO) gas in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. 

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. While CO detectors do not serve as smoke detectors 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.


Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Carbon monoxide enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning, and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness, or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.

The concentration of CO, measured in parts per million (ppm) is a determining factor in the symptoms for an average, healthy adult.

  • 50 ppm: No adverse effects with eight hours of exposure.
  • 200 ppm: Mild headache after two to three hours of exposure.
  • 400 ppm: Headache and nausea after one to two hours of exposure.
  • 800 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 45 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after one hour of exposure.
  • 1,000 ppm: Loss of consciousness after one hour of exposure.
  • 1,600 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 20 minutes of exposure.
  • 3,200 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 5-10 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after 30 minutes of exposure.
  • 6,400 ppm: Headache and dizziness after one to two minutes; unconsciousness and danger of death after 10-15 minutes of exposure.
  • 12,800 ppm: Immediate physiological effects, unconsciousness and danger of death after one to three minutes of exposure.
Source: NFPA's Fire Protection Handbook, 20th Edition.