RV 101: Carbon Monoxide Awareness

December 6, 2011

It’s that time of year again, when we fire up the furnace and bring out the portable heaters to help stay warm. Along with the furnace and portable heaters comes the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Produced by the partial combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels, carbon monoxide gas is invisible, odorless, and deadly. It is extremely serious when combustion by-products are not vented outside; in fact, carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths each year.

Let’s look at what we can do to prevent the danger of carbon monoxide in our RV.

In RV’s, carbon monoxide gas usually results from:

• Exhaust leaks from a vehicle engine or a generator
• Improper use of portable gas powered heaters
• Someone else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close quarters
• Malfunctioning or unvented LP gas appliances

If your RV doesn’t have a carbon monoxide detector you need to purchase a battery operated carbon monoxide detector designed for use in RVs. Test the carbon monoxide detector every time you use the RV, and replace the batteries when you change clocks for daylight savings time.

Other Tips

• Inspect the generator exhaust system before using the generator, every time
• Avoid leaving windows down and roof vents open when in close proximity to vehicle and/or generator exhaust
• Follow all directions and safety cautions and warnings when operating gas powered heaters
• If you use a portable generator direct the exhaust away from the camping area
Never use the range burners or oven to heat the RV!
• When cooking with the range burners use the range fan and always leave a window cracked open for fresh air and ventilation

Recognizing Carbon Monoxide Symptoms

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu, but without fever. They include:

• Dizziness
• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Muscular twitching
• Intense headache
• Throbbing in the temples
• Weakness and sleepiness
• Inability to think coherently

Watch the current episode of Mark’s RV Garage Internet TV at www.rvconsumer.com.

Happy RV Learning
Mark Polk

  • David

    How does a “RV” type CO detector differ from a ordinary household CO detector? What problems will take place if a household detector is used in a RV?

    • Denis Stewart

      All CO detectors detect CO. The difference is that detectors in an RV are subject to harsher environments than most household detectors such as salt exposure if your RV is parked by the ocean and if left in an unheated RV. If you remove your detector from the RV when you are not occupying you will extend its life.

  • paul swanson

    I noted one minor omission in your otherwise fairly complete article. The omission is one reason I got a Diesel engine. They (compression-ignition engines like Diesels) don’t generate carbon monoxide. Since they are compression-ignition, they burn completely or not at all. Gasoline engines (spark-ignition engines) force the burn with a spark, and can burn incompletely, so they generate carbon monoxide.

    To be technically correct, a Diesel engine can emit a small quantity of carbon monoxide but this is a technical point – it isn’t enough to be harmful.

  • Dale Chapman

    We have replaced the 12 volt, direct wired, CO detector in our 2004 class B motor home because it came with an expiration date. Removing it frequently is out of the question.

  • Bob King

    What is the correct placement of the carbon monoxide detector? My old RV had it on the wall next to the floor, my new one has it on the wall near the ceiling. Which is correct or does it not make any difference?

    • Marci Ferguson

      The detector near the floor is probably for a propane leak as propane is heavy, and stays close to the floor. The CO2 detector, and smoke detectors are higher, on or near the ceiling, as the fumes rise.

      • Millie

        We need a lot more instgihs like this!

  • jos van der pol

    This summer we hade a boiling batteryset in our moterhome and that trips a CM detector to. Long before you notice the funny smel of sulver.
    So it helpt us avoiding more trouble than wanted whit exploding battery’s etc.

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