How Often Should Carbon Monoxide Detectors Be Replaced?

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You may never think about the question of when should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced.

But you should.

It sneaks into your home under the cover of darkness.

You can't see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, or taste it.

It smothers you in your sleep.

That sounds pretty scary, doesn't it? It seems like the pitch for a horror movie. Unfortunately, it is very real and could happen to anyone.

Carbon monoxide, is a gas that can get trapped in your home and cause serious health issues and even death.

Every year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The only thing standing between this killer gas and your family is your carbon monoxide detector.

That is why it is so important to learn everything you can about how to use and maintain your detector, along with understanding how often should carbon monoxide should detectors be replaced.

Alerting You to a Deadly Gas

A carbon monoxide detector is the only way to tell if the gas is present. Carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless and colorless. You cannot determine its presence on your own.

This gas comes from the incomplete burning of fuels, including wood, coal, natural gas, propane, gasoline, and methane. Sources are often heating and cooking appliances and motorized vehicles and equipment.

The National Safety Council explains that CO is most harmful when it builds up in an enclosed space. This is most common in the winter months when you seal your home off from the cold weather and use heating units.

CO enters the body through the lungs. It binds to your red blood cells and starves them of oxygen, making them unable to carry oxygen throughout your body. Essentially, this suffocates you.

CO poisoning can cause permanent brain damage and death.

As you can see why knowing how often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced is essential to your safety.

The inner workings

Beyond just having one and being aware of how often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced, you also should understand how they work.

Safewise explains there are three general types of detectors.

An electrochemical detector has electrodes in a chemical solution. The electrodes can sense changes in the solution when CO is present, which triggers the alarm.

Biomimetic detectors contain a gel that changes color when carbon monoxide is present. This change in the gel triggers the alarm.

Metal oxide semiconductor detectors use a silica chip. This chip senses CO, which lowers the electrical resistance and sets off the alarm.

The basic function is the same regardless. The detector continually monitors the level of CO in the air and will alert you when it is too high.

Proper Use Saves Lives

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Having a CO detector is great, but you need to use it properly.

To begin with, you probably need more than one.

They should go outside sleeping areas and on every floor of your home.

You want to follow the manufacturer's directions for installation because different detectors work at different heights.

Detectors can be battery powered or plug into a wall outlet. Be aware that plugin models have to have a battery backup in case of a power outage.

In these situations, you are more likely to use heating sources that increase carbon monoxide risks.

There are combination units that detect smoke and CO. Do note that you should check local laws as they may dictate which type of detector you must have.

When in operation, the unit's LEDs may blink on occasion to signal the unit is working. You may also have a detector that has a digital readout. This readout will display the CO level and can also communicate errors and other information.

If you can, it is best to hardwire your detectors into your overall home security and safety system. This will allow all alarms to go off if one is triggered.

In addition, you should know where the test button is so you can test your unit monthly.

Never cover or obstruct a detector. Do not install it near a door or window. Also, put it at least 15 feet away from a fuel-burning appliance.

Detector Beeping? What Do You Do?

You should take every alarm seriously. Assume a hazardous level of CO is present and move everyone to fresh air outside your home.

Call 911 for emergency assistance.

Do not go back into your home until emergency personnel gives you the all clear.

If there was not a leak and it was a false alarm, you should first check the batteries. This is almost always the cause of a false alarm.

This Thing Isn't Working Right

You may wonder what to do if an alarm malfunctions. Remember the advice from before: never ignore an alarm. If it goes off, take action right away to get out of your home.

However, as with anything, there may be times when you CO detector just isn't working right. If you have a digital display, you can usually see on the readout what is going on and know if it is a genuine alarm or if something is wrong with the unit.

Typically, the unit will emit beeps that are different for each situation, such as high CO detected, internal issues, or general malfunctioning.

The best way to handle a malfunctioning unit is to look in the owner's manual. This should explain the different sounds the unit makes and what they mean.

You may have to listen carefully to distinguish the beeps and chirps from each other. Typically, an alarm that signals high levels of CO will be four short beeps in a row, but it may differ with different detectors.

How often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced?

If you have tried everything and your unit is still not working correctly, then it may be time to replace it.

How often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced depends on the unit. Generally speaking, they usually last for five to seven years.

You may also have a sealed unit, which is one where you cannot replace the battery. These are often made to last ten years.

However, newer models will have an end of life mode. It will let you know how often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced by giving you a distinct beep or chirp.

It is essential to understand that when your unit is in its end of life mode, it will not operate and cannot detect carbon monoxide. You must replace it right away.

Signs of poisoning

It is essential to know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. You may start feeling unwell long before the gas has a chance to cause serious harm to your body.

The National Fire Protection Association explains that carbon monoxide can affect people differently based on their health and age. Babies, pregnant women, and people with respiratory conditions can be poisoned from far less CO exposure than a healthy adult.

Poisoning can occur over time with exposure to a small amount or at one time with exposure to a significant amount.

Symptoms of CO poisoning are often similar to the flu and include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Light headiness
  • Headaches

Stopping CO in Its Tracks

You know a lot about properly using carbon monoxide detectors and how often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced, which is excellent.

Ideally, though, you won't ever need to rely on a detector to save your life because you have taken steps to prevent CO build up in your home.

Here are some tips for avoiding a deadly CO situation in your home:

  • Do not warm vehicles in a closed garage
  • Do not run fuel operated equipment inside
  • Clear outdoor vents for dryers, furnaces, and appliances after snowstorms
  • Never grill inside except with electric grill
  • Service fuel burning equipment every year
  • Have your chimney checked and cleaned regularly
  • Ensure gas appliances have proper venting

While you hope it won't be needed, you should also make sure your CO detector is kept clean so it can work properly. Wipe it down or vacuum it to remove dust at least once a month.

Keeping Your Family Safe

Talking about carbon monoxide is a little unsettling. It is scary to know there is something present in your home that could kill you.

family hand to hand

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However, you have taken a very important step towards protecting yourself and your loved ones against this silent killer.

Learning about and installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home is the single best way to prevent a dangerous situation if a buildup of CO happens.

You understand the importance of detectors and educated yourself on how to use them properly.

You've also learned how often should carbon monoxide detectors be replaced and how to troubleshoot them if they malfunction.

Finally, you know the symptoms of CO poisoning and have gotten some tips to help reduce the chances of a CO build up in your home.

You are well prepared to protect yourself and your family while also being able to continue to provide a home that uses fuel powered appliances and heating sources.

You cannot avoid carbon monoxide in many cases, but you can avoid a CO catastrophe.

If you don't already have them, go buy carbon monoxide detectors for your home and keep your family safe.

Image via Pexels

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