Recently a friend posted on social media that 2:00 a.m. is not a great time to figure out if the beeping from a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm means low battery or impending death.
It was a funny comment, but having a working CO alarm in your home can literally be the difference between life and death.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. It is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned and is, according to the CDC, the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in
the U.S. CO results in more than 430
deaths and 50,000 emergency room visits each year in the U.S. alone. See the CDC FAQs about CO.
Improper use or malfunction of a fuel-burning appliance such as a
furnace, water heater, clothes dryer, stove, oven, or generator can
produce dangerous levels of CO indoors. Other potential sources of CO in the home include
poorly vented fireplaces or vehicles left running in an attached
garage. When CO gas builds up inside a home, it can quickly lead to
illness or even death. Because CO has no taste or smell to alert people to its
presence, the only safe way to detect it is with a properly working, properly placed CO alarm.
According the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), CO alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions, usually about 5 feet from the floor, in a central location outside each
sleeping area on every level of the home. They should also be installed in other locations as required by applicable laws, codes, or standards. NFPA also recommends that homeowners interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home so when one sounds, they all sound.
It is recommended that you change the batteries in your CO alarms every six months, just as you do with your smoke alarms. Doing this when you change the clocks for daylight saving time is a great way to remember.
Carbon monoxide alarms also have a limited lifespan, typically 5-7 years. In the case of my friend who posted about his alarm chirping at 2:00 a.m., his CO alarm was letting him know that it was at the end of its useful life and needed to be replaced. Older models may not have this feature. If in doubt, replace your detectors and then follow the manufacturer's schedule for future replacement
For more information on CO in the home, click the image below to download the NFPA fact sheet on CO Safety.