It’s confusing trying to understand the differences and effectiveness of Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms readily available in the retail market, all bearing a “standards” listing symbol meant to impress you that what you’re buying will keep your family safe and healthy.

But to the consumer who educates themselves as to what these standards imposed by the manufacturing industry really mean, it becomes clear that the limitations are not strictly arrived at from a health and safety standpoint but rather a game of numbers factoring costs vs profits, and potential liabilities.

A simple and somewhat startling point is that the current industry standards (UL 2034 / CSA 6.19) will not allow a CO Alarm / Detector to notify of levels below 30PPM (Parts Per Million) in any way. This means that a potential low level CO condition can be present in your home indefinitely with no indication. Levels between 30 PPM and 69 PPM can be alerted to, but can be present for over 30 days before any alert. At a level of 70PPM (the lowest “test” point manufacturers must meet), the standard dictates the unit cannot give an audible alarm until a minimum of 60 minutes has passed at that level, and actually gives that alarm point a window of up to 240 minutes before the alarm is sounded.

Contrasting the effectiveness of these standards are recognized Health and Safety Organizations stated warnings of exposure to CO. For instance NIOSHA (The National Institute for Safety & Health) sets the 8 hour maximum exposure in the workplace at 35 PPM, primarily designed around manufacturing environments where workers will likely be spending up to 8 hours a day, and not continuously subjected to those levels. More notably ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has set a maximum limit of short term exposure to CO at 9 PPM, focused on the home environment where people commonly spend more than 70% of their time.

These are just 2 examples of numerous highly regarded organizations that are at odds with the standards regulating the consumer market, those brand name models predominantly filling your local Hardware and DIY shelves. While these mainstream manufacturers could produce units designed for accuracy and to alerting consumers to lower levels of CO, the costs associated with components and quality control would be significantly higher. With higher product costs, retail prices would increase, and sales volumes would be reduced. The mainstream industry is content with guidelines that ensure easy compliance and give the consumer the impression of reliability, at what they consider reasonable costs, resulting in higher profits.

The reality is that today’s standards, regardless of the reasoning behind them, leave a large demographic significantly unprotected from the effects of CO at lower levels. From pregnant women and their unborn, developing children, the elderly, and anyone suffering from any number of ailments where the ability of their blood to deliver oxygen to vital organs is at risk. Long term exposure to low levels of CO has been determined by many published studies to have life-long developmental effects on children, and in the elderly and ill can have life threatening consequences.