CO2 vs CO
Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are often times confused when referring to the type of detectors required in homes. Both are odorless, colorless gases, and are byproducts from anything containing carbon being burned such as wood, fuels, natural gas, and especially coal. Both compounds contain carbon and oxygen, the difference lies in their toxicity. Carbon dioxide (CO2) contains one molecule of carbon and two molecules of oxygen. Carbon Monoxide (CO) contains only one atom of oxygen and two atoms of carbon. This may seem like a small difference but they are quite different in how they affect people.
Carbon Dioxide is present in our atmosphere and is a natural waste product of the respiration in living cells. Humans and animals breathe in air taking some of the oxygen and breathe out a mixture that includes CO2. So carbon dioxide can be tolerated to some extent in the body. In contrast, carbon monoxide is a poison that can suffocate people if it builds up. In low concentrations carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms. High concentrations can kill within minutes, especially in a confined space such as your home.
Everyday common devices produce carbon monoxide, such as cars, gas appliances, wood stoves, and even cigarettes. To keep your home safe, have gas appliances such as furnace, water heaters and fireplaces serviced by a professional annually. As of Jan. 1, 2013, Washington State law (RCW 19.27.530) requires one carbon monoxide alarm to be installed on each floor of a residence. CO is colorless and odorless and thus impossible to detect without a proper electronic detector. At a minimum, put an alarm near the floor on each floor of your home. For the most trouble free and cost effective operation, the plug in type are recommended.