When I worked as a social media specialist for a fire department, we would occasionally have to deal with a sad story about a family whose home was destroyed because they didn’t have a working smoke alarm. But even worse were the stories about families that lost their lives because they didn’t have a working carbon monoxide detector.
Newer homes and newer construction in the United States usually involves the installation of a carbon monoxide detector but many families still don’t monitor for this deadly, odorless, and colorless gas. While you can control your environment when you’re at home, it’s not as easy when you travel.
Frankly, I never think about carbon monoxide as an issue when I travel. I usually stay in nicer hotels and assume that they must have all of their bases covered. But that’s not always a correct assumption.
How Safe Are Hotels?
There was a horrific case several years ago that occurred in the small mountain town of Boone, North Carolina. A mother and her 11 year old son were staying in a motel room that was close to the hotel pool heater’s exhaust pipe, which was damaged. The exhaust pipe was leaking lethal levels of carbon monoxide from its location in the drop ceiling just below their room. The mother survived after hospitalization but tragically, her son did not survive.
As it turns out, there is no federal requirement for carbon monoxide detectors in hotel rooms. In fact, only 14 states in the U.S. require installation of carbon monoxide detectors in hotels and motels under statute. Most hotels cite cost as they reason they’re more likely to install CO alarms near a furnace, water heater or other fuel-burning devices instead of in individual hotel rooms.
The Issue of Vacation Home Rentals
Another concern comes from a recent tragic story in the news about a family from Iowa that rented a condo in Tulum, Mexico for a week long vacation. Their rental was through HomeAway, a site similar to Airbnb, that allows potential vacationers to find a residence for their stay while allowing homeowners to earn rental income on their properties. When the family failed to return home from Mexico, authorities found the entire family dead in the condo in what appears to be asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning.
As more and more vacationers are turning to these vacation rental services, how can they ensure that their stay is a safe one?
Although I couldn’t find anything on the HomeAway site, Airbnb has an entire page dedicated to helping hosts make their homes safer for potential guests. One of the first safety items they recommend is the installation of working smoke alarms and CO detectors to provide safety and security for renters.
If you’re wondering what your level of risk is when traveling, there are a few quick facts to know about carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon Monoxide Fast Facts
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, deadly gas.
CO is produced by the burning of any carbon-based fuels like those in engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.
Although effects from exposure can take several hours to appear, depending on the levels, high levels of CO can cause death within 5 minutes.
Symptoms of CO poisoning can include:
- Dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
A Portable Carbon Monoxide Alarm
If you’re looking to ensure your own safety and don’t want to rely on hotel regulations or vacation homeowners, another option is traveling with a portable carbon monoxide detector. There are rather expensive detectors for serious background monitoring that can range from $80 to $100 but I liked this Kidde Carbon Monoxide Alarm that could easily be plugged in at a hotel room or a vacation rental home.
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