Is Carbon Monoxide Lighter Than Air? 1 Big Reason You Need To Know

Indoor Air Quality, Safety

Did you know that the density of carbon monoxide is critical information for you to know to protect your family successfully? But surely there are a lot more important things to know about carbon monoxide, right?

You may have known that carbon monoxide or CO is an extremely dangerous gas, but how dangerous EXACTLY? What are its sources? And how does this toxic gas’s heaviness or lightness affect the safety of your home? Is carbon monoxide lighter than air?

Let’s answer those questions for you and more in this article.

DP is carbon monoxide lighter than air

First off, carbon monoxide has a molecular weight which is slightly lighter than air. Air has a density of 28.966 grams per molecule and its specific gravity is 1.0. Carbon monoxide has a molecular weight of 28.011 g/mol and a specific gravity of 0.967.

These figures show that carbon monoxide is slightly less dense than air. But not enough to make much difference in your home. CO will easily mix with air because they almost have the same density.

What this means for you is that since carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air but quickly blends with the air, the height of a detectors installation doesn’t matter. The important thing is installing them in sleeping areas and near fuel-burning appliances.

Why is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?

Only a handful of gases are deemed by the scientific and industrial communities as toxic and devastating as carbon monoxide. And because of its peculiar characteristic of being colorless, odorless, and tasteless, it can kill you in a matter of minutes without immediate detection.

When CO is inhaled, it quickly binds to the hemoglobin in our blood and prevents oxygen from getting in the mix. Hemoglobin is the protein found in red blood cells and has the very important role of transporting oxygen to all parts of your body. But if exposed to carbon monoxide, the oxygen is displaced and CO will take the place of the much-needed oxygen.

Scientific findings even show that carbon monoxide bonds to hemoglobin 250 times stronger than oxygen can! 

Without adequate oxygen delivered to all parts of the human body, one can immediately feel tired and weak and have headaches, upset stomach, vomiting, and chest pains.

After prolonged exposure to CO and oxygen deprivation, you can experience multiple system failures. A study revealed that carbon monoxide poisoning can also cause mental symptoms like cognitive deficits, memory and concentration loss, and personality changes such as irritability, anxiety, and depression.

The worst of the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning is death. Those who are drunk or sleeping are the most susceptible to being killed from severe CO exposure before they show any kind of symptoms.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide in a Home?

You will be surprised to know that despite how threatening and fatal carbon monoxide is, there are plenty of home appliances that are potential generators of hazardous levels of CO.

Here are some examples:

  • Gas stoves
  • Ovens
  • Wood stoves
  • Furnaces
  • Boilers
  • Clothes dryers
  • Water heaters
  • Fireplaces (gas and wood-burning)
  • Grills
  • Generators
  • Power tools
  • Lawn equipment
  • Motor vehicles
  • Tobacco smoke

Any fuel-burning machine, device, or vehicle can produce carbon monoxide if they go through “incomplete combustion”. Simply put, this is when there is not enough supply of oxygen in the immediate environment as the burning process occurs.

Where Should I Place a Carbon Monoxide Detector?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adamant in saying that carbon monoxide detectors should be installed on every floor of the house. This step is wise because CO is virtually untraceable without the help of carbon monoxide alarms.

If in any case, you have only one carbon monoxide detector at your disposal, make sure to place it near the sleeping areas. But it is essential for the alarm to be loud enough to be heard throughout the entire home or building.

But if you have the budget for multiple CO detectors, besides installing them near the bedrooms, put some near gas-powered appliances and indoor spaces where most people gather together or spend more time like the living room.

What is the Correct Mounting Height for a Carbon Monoxide Detector?

Carbon monoxide detectors can come as portable, hand-held devices or those that are fixed or plugged into the interior walls of a home.

If you go for a fixed type of alarm, how high or how low should you mount your CO alarms?

Keep in mind that CO is slightly lighter than air so it has a tendency to rise and linger right around where your breathing space is.

A well-known technology and consumer electronics source advises installing carbon monoxide detectors at least 5 feet from the floor if it’s on a wall, or 6 inches from the wall if placed on the ceiling.

While it is advisable to put CO detectors near fuel-burning appliances like stoves and ovens, be careful not to install them too close to the flame or fire. Otherwise, you will be suffering from many false alarms and unnecessary panic.

In the kitchen, place the carbon monoxide alarm at least 6 feet away from the fuel source. And if it’s an active fire like the grill or fireplace, a 5 to 20 feet distance between the alarm and the fire may be necessary.

If in doubt, it is always helpful to read the manual, users’ guide or FAQs on the website of the carbon monoxide detector you want to purchase. Strictly follow the instructions for optimum safety, and keep a copy of the manual nearby for future reference. 

What to Do If a Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off

It is not helpful to panic when a carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm, but you have to act quickly and intuitively.

  1. First, NEVER assume that it is just a false alarm. Making sure that your CO detector is working fine should have happened a long time ago and on a regular basis, but this is not the moment to second-guess your warning device. Operate on the assumption that it is sounding a legitimate alert and you have to evacuate.
  2. Evacuate all family members and pets. Carbon monoxide is not only lethal to humans but to animals as well. Act fast and do not delay evacuating the space. Go to a distance where everyone can have access to fresh air.
  3. Call 911. DON’T HESITATE to call 911 when your CO alarm goes off even if you believe you are in no immediate danger. Responders and firefighters are trained to identify legit causes of concern regarding carbon monoxide.

Don’t reenter your home too soon. You may be tempted to go back inside your home to check on things when the carbon monoxide detector has stopped sounding alarms. But this is extremely unsafe as some fresh air might have only gotten into the house as you escaped, that’s why the CO alarm ceased. But the ultimate source of carbon monoxide may still be releasing toxic levels of CO.

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