The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

What you might not know about CO

Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. This makes it extremely dangerous.

When dealing with any sort of engine, Stirling engines included, you need to be aware of safety measures that should be taken to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas which is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It is found or produced by fumes from any burning fuel and is extremely dangerous, even lethal.

What Does This Have to do With Stirling engines?

When a flame is involved, in this case a flame-powered Stirling engine, carbon monoxide can build up from the fumes.

Unfortunately, you might not know how much carbon monoxide you’re breathing in since you can’t see, taste, or smell it.

When flame-heated Stirling engine models are used in doors, with poor ventilation, you are putting yourself at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

It Happened to Me

While it wasn’t due to using a flame-heated Stirling engine in a poorly-ventilated area, I do believe I was subjected to long-term carbon monoxide positioning.

This happened during the winter of 2015 to 2016 and was caused by a faulty water heater in my apartment.

So, why didn’t I know about it sooner?

CO Alarms Prevent Acute, not Chronic, Poisoning

Carbon monoxide and smoke alarms are designed to protect you from immediate death due to acute carbon monoxide poisoning. They are NOT designed to protect you from chronic carbon monoxide poisoning.

The typical home detector is designed to go off at 90 parts per million (ppm), even though long-term exposure is considered unsafe above 50 ppm¹.

Anything higher than this can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Your Body Produces Carbon Monoxide

What you probably didn’t know about carbon monoxide is that your body actually makes a tiny bit of it.

You probably also don’t know that there is a tiny bit of carbon monoxide present in clean air, but only about .2 ppm¹.

This Poison is Everywhere

Clean, well-adjusted gas stoves are said to produce carbon monoxide levels close to the stove at 15 ppm. This is 75 times what is present in clean, outdoor air.

Since I have an engineer’s passion for measurement, and since I don’t care what people think about my fashion sense, I now wear a Sensorcon Inspector every time I go to town. And, I keep it beside my bed.

Six months after the purchase of my meter, I plan to send it back to the factory for calibration and also buy the Sensorcon Inspector Industrial PRO.

Carbon monoxide meter in hand.

This is me holding my Sensorcon Inspector carbon monoxide meter.

I think the PRO is worth the extra money because it has two features the original Inspector does not: a vibrator which is more likely to make you realize the alarm has gone off if you are wearing it and a time weighted average calculator which is a valuable feature for anybody who gets stuck in traffic and wants to know their average carbon monoxide exposure throughout the entire day.
Both of these meters have a peak hold feature that you definitely should use which shows you what the peak level you were exposed to, even if you were not looking at the meter at that moment.

wearing a CO meter on my shirt

This is me wearing my carbon monoxide meter.  I wear it like this when I go to town or when I think I might be around Carbon Monoxide.

The Sensorcon Meters Won’t Wake You Up

While these meters are very useful for seeing what you have been exposed to throughout the day, the alarm is about as loud as a digital watch alarm and isn’t likely to wake you up in the night if you needed it.

So it’s still important to install a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector in your home. The home alarms are cheap and designed to wake you up even in the middle of the night, whereas the Sensorcon meters are probably not loud enough to wake you up.

Please Leave Your Comments

Do you have another tip for ensuring you’re safe from carbon monoxide poisoning? Leave it here in the comments.

¹United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2017). National Ambient Air Quality Standards. 2017. Washington D.C.: U.S. EPA. Retrieved from

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