Testing for Carbon Monoxide Using a Detector Badge

CO detector badge
CO detector badges are inexpensive and effective. © ASA

While fire and smoke in your home are, of course, primary safety concerns, in reality, the most common home safety threat is the presence of a silent killer called carbon monoxide (CO). More than 20,000 emergency room visits each year are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, and it causes more than 400 deaths annually in the U.S. 

What Is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

CO is an odorless, poisonous gas most commonly produced by fossil fuels that have burned incompletely, as may occur in older furnaces or water heaters that are vented improperly.

It can also be caused by kerosene or wood-burning stoves or heaters. A poorly functioning, improperly vented gas stove can also be a risk. Carbon monoxide poisoning in its early phases causes flu-like symptoms, with dizziness, vomiting, and confusion. It can quickly kill by preventing a person's blood from carrying necessary dissolved oxygen. 

  • Warning: if you develop these symptoms suddenly, don't wait—get into fresh air immediately and call a service person to come check out your appliances. The first level of treatment for treatment of CO poisoning is oxygen and plenty of it. If your flu-like symptoms clear up when you get into fresh air, it's very likely you are dealing with CO poisoning. 

There are expensive monitors that can instantly detect the presence of carbon monoxide. An HVAC service repair person who comes to your home is almost certainly equipped with such a monitor. Fortunately, you can easily test for the presence of this gas in your home for less than $10 using a convenient CO test kit.

That's safe and inexpensive insurance for your family, and you may want to keep several of these kits on hand. These badges do not, however, replace the electronic CO monitors/alarms required in homes by most building codes. But the detector badges can be a good way to spot CO problems in targeted locations.


How To Use a Carbon Monoxide Detector Badge

  1. Purchase a passive CO test kit (detector badge) at your local hardware or building supply store.
  2. Write the date of the test on the front of the test badge.
  3. Following the manufacturer's instructions, place the test badge in a location where you are concerned about CO gas. This may be the furnace room, near a gas fireplace, the garage, and so on. Make sure you position the badge away from direct exposure to sunlight, ammonia, solvents or cleaners.
  4. Check for CO. Within 15 minutes or so the badge will darken if it detects any carbon monoxide. Even if the badge changes color slightly, this is a problem.
  5. If the badge changes color at all and detects any carbon monoxide, immediately find the cause and correct the problem.
  6. If no CO is detected immediately, you can leave the badge in place for 60 to 90 days as recommended by the manufacturer.

Early Detection

Most local building codes require residential homes to be equipped with electronic CO detectors. These are active detectors that will sense the presence of CO and announce the danger with a piercing audible alarm. While passive detector badges do detect carbon monoxide, they must be monitored constantly.

  Their value is in the ability to detect very small amounts of CO in targeted locations before CO levels can reach dangerous levels. They do not take the place of active CO detectors.

Make sure your home is also equipped with electronic CO detectors in the manner recommended by your local building code. Usually, this means a CO/smoke detector in each bedroom in the home.