Best Carbon Monoxide Detectors (for Portable Generators)

Carbon Monoxide Detector, CO Alarm, CO Detector, Low Level CO Detector -

Best Carbon Monoxide Detectors (for Portable Generators)

Portable generators are one of the most dangerous consumer goods. Carbon monoxide poisoning related to portable gas generators has taken many lives over the years, in addition to hospitalizing people, and thus it is of the utmost importance that people take proper precautions when using these generators. Carbon monoxide detectors can be particularly useful in these situations by providing an accurate reading of the carbon monoxide present in a given environment to ensure that an unsafe concentration is not reached.

 Pros

Cons

  • Carbon monoxide detectors can protect people from carbon monoxide's harmful effects.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors are relatively inexpensive.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors can be readily found and purchased in many stores and online.
  • Maximum safety is required when using portable generators. Operate them outside with the exhaust facing away from the home.
  • Portable generators are one of the most dangerous consumer goods.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors have a limited lifespan of 5-7 years.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors can, at times, have false alarms.
  • Not all carbon monoxide detectors can detect low levels of carbon monoxide and thus may not alert the users of the presence of carbon monoxide at low concentrations.

portable generators

Should I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector When Operating a Portable Generator?

Investing in a carbon monoxide detector is a simple, smart, and cost-effective way to protect yourself and your family from harmful carbon monoxide gases.

When a carbon monoxide detector sniffs CO gas, it will sound an alert. Many of these detectors are battery-operated and simple to use and set up.

Dr. Koz performed a simple experiment to show how dangerous portable generators are and also showed how a simple CO detector can be used to make a interlock system. See here.

Do Portable Generators Give Off Carbon Monoxide?

Yes they do. 

Portable Generators mostly use gasoline and emit carbon monoxide. They do not have any catalytic converters to reduce toxic fumes, which makes them very dangerous when it comes to carbon monoxide output (as compared to your vehicle). If too much carbon monoxide builds up in an indoor environment, deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly accumulate.

CO deaths portable generator

Can Portable Generators Give you Carbon Monoxide Poisoning? ...or even kill you?

Absolutely.

Over the last decade, generators have killed an average of 70 individuals in the United States per year, an increase from the decade before.

Over the last two decades, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has documented around 1,300 deaths caused by generators, with new studies revealing that the majority of these deaths occur during weather-related power outages. The number of deaths is an underestimate, according to the CPSC, because there is no thorough legal duty to report fatalities and injuries to the commission.

The common theme is that users either place the generators indoors, in garages, or close to doors and windows which then allows portable gas generator exhaust to enter the indoors and poison occupants. 

Where should a Portable Generator be Placed?

  • Always outdoors.
  • At least 20 feet away from homes, with the exhaust pointed away from windows and doors.

Consumer Reports advises placing portable gas generators at least 20 feet away from an enclosed space such as the house. In addition to this, they also advise directing the engine exhaust away from doors, windows, and other potential entries to the home.

  • Don't be lazy. The 20 foot recommendation is serious. The CPSC showed post hurricane related generator found up to 50% of non-fatal CO poisoning incidents involved generators operated outdoors but within one to seven feet from the home.
  • Five deaths occurred when a generator was outdoors but near openings
    to the home, according to the CPSC.

What Are the Practices to Minimize Portable Generator CO Poisoning?

  • Use portable gas generators after reading the label on your generator and the owner’s manual.
  • Use your generator OUTSIDE your house ONLY, at least 20 feet from your home.  
  • NEVER use a generator inside a home, garage or shed. Carbon monoxide from generators is poisonous and can KILL you in minutes. CO is called the “invisible killer” because you cannot see it or smell it. 
  • Make sure you have working CO alarms in your home. 

How much Carbon Monoxide Does a Generator Produce?

The carbon monoxide output of a portable generator can be much over 1000 ppm. This is enough to kill somebody with just a few breaths.

The CDC acknowledges that portable generators produce enough carbon monoxide to have the capacity to sicken and kill people.

carbon monoxide detector portable generator

What are the Types of Carbon Monoxide Detector?

Carbon Monoxide detectors save many lives every year. 

A carbon monoxide detector will prevent deaths from carbon monoxide entering your home and/or indoor space (garage, work, shed) due to CO coming from a portable gas generator.

CO is elusive since it cannot be detected with the human nose. It can be propagated with the wind into your home; it can then be propagated and distributed by your heating venting system or be emitted from a neighboring portable generator or redirected by physical walls or objects. There are many ways CO gas can arrive in your presence, hence why we advocate having a carbon monoxide detector with you, in your home, and in every bedroom, garage, shed or indoor space.

A low level carbon monoxide detector is a excellent option for early warning indoor CO accumulation. Low level carbon monoxide detectors have the ability to alarm faster than regular UL2034 carbon monoxide detectors due to their lower alarm thresholds and faster response algorithms.

 carbon monoxide detector portable generator

What is the Best CO Meter to Protect from a Portable Gas Generator?

While there are many excellent options to choose from when selecting a CO meter, some great devices include the following:

How Long Do CO Meters Last?

Most CO meters last between 3 to 10 years. If batteries can be replaced, we recommend replacing them annually.

Why Are Portable Gas Generators Dangerous?

Portable gas generators pose a number of dangers to users such as carbon monoxide threats, electrical threats, and fire threats.

With carbon monoxide specifically, generators are capable of producing large quantities of the gas in a short period of time. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises taking these precautionary steps:

  • Do not use generators in enclosed spaces, especially those lacking proper ventilation.
  • Follow the instructions that come with the generators.
  • Use carbon monoxide detectors, meters, or monitors to track the level of carbon monoxide in the space.

When Do Most CO Poisoning Incidents Occur with Portable Gas Generators?

  • Most carbon monoxide deaths due to portable gas generators occur after a storm or hurricane. The power goes out and then forces many people to use portable generators.
  • NPR notes a specific story where one woman's encounter with carbon monoxide poisoning from a portable gas generator is explored in detail. 
  • Most extreme situations are when people use portable generators in their homes, garages, or close to the entry ways of their home (windows, doors, etc.).

portable generator CO detector meter

    Do Portable Gas Generators Have CO Sensor Cutoffs?

    Only some of them have CO sensor cutoffs. Most do not.

    Be attentive and look for this feature where possible.

    What is the History of Carbon Monoxide Shut Off and Portable Generators?

    • Carbon monoxide interlock development regarding portable generators germinated with two key groups:
      • CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
      • PGMA (Portable Generator Manufacturers Association).
    • In 2001, Carbon Monoxide first demonstration of interlock with a houseboat, according to the CDC NIOSH.
    • In 2006, CPSC brings to light an initiative to reduce carbon monoxide in portable generators to reduce unintentional carbon monoxide deaths.
    • In 2006, Demonstration of a Remote Carbon Monoxide Sensing Automatic Shut Off Device for Portable Generators, CPSC.
    • In 2007, Portable Generator Safety Act of 2007.
    • Timeline Carbon Monoxide interlock ANSI/PGMA G300 development history.
    • In 2017, an article summarizing history of carbon monoxide reduction in portable generators, leading up to voluntary standard development of CO interlocks.
    • A patent search shows first Carbon Monoxide Detector on a Gas Powered Generator in 2006.
    • Portable Generator Manufacturers start offering portable generators with CO interlock systems. For example, CO Shield was introduced by Champion on October 2018, Portable Generator Model #100592.
    • Consumer Report testing CO shutoff technology on various portable generators.
    carbon monoxide interlock detector meter alarm

    Final Words

    • Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas with the potential to cause death.
    • Carbon monoxide detectors are life savers if CO gas enters your home.
    • Many people have been harmed or killed by carbon monoxide poisoning related to portable gas generators.
    • Ensure your portable generator is at least 20 feet from your dwelling.
    • Low level CO detectors alarm and warn faster than typical UL2034 CO alarms.

    About the Author

    Dr. Koz is the President of FORENSICS DETECTORS, where the company operates from the scenic Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles, California. He is a subject matter expert on gas sensor technology, gas detectors, gas meters, and gas analyzers. He has been designing, building, manufacturing and testing toxic gas detection systems for over 20 years.

    gas detector expert

    Every day is a blessing for Dr. Koz. He loves to help customers solve their unique problems. Dr. Koz also loves spending time with his wife and his three children going to the beach, grilling burgers, and having a cold beer. 

    Read more about Forensics Detectors here.

    Email:  drkoz@forensicsdetectors.com
    Phone: +1 424-341-3886


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