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HC-Pedia Entry

Carbon monoxide alarm

Even if you’re prudent when using fuel-burning appliances and diligent about having the chimney, furnace and hot-water heater inspected regularly by professionals, these measures may not prevent a sudden failure that could introduce large amounts of deadly carbon monoxide into your home. A CO alarm in the home is the best way to guard against this threat to your family’s health.


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Costing between $20 and $50, most carbon-monoxide detectors plug into a wall outlet or use batteries. A few models can be “hard-wired” into a home’s electrical circuitry so that if one unit detects the presence of this odorless, colorless gas, all of them will sound the alarm.

CO alarms offer greater placement flexibility than smoke alarms. Unlike smoke, which will rise to the ceiling, deadly carbon-monoxide gas mixes throughout the air. Thus, detectors can be placed anywhere on a wall, or on a counter or table in the case of battery-powered units. However, please remember that you need each kind of alarm, or alarms capable of detecting both threats.

Place one detector on each floor of a multi-level home. Avoid locations near windows and exterior doors, where fresh air might cause low readings, and in rooms such as garages, where alarms might sound frequently. Follow manufacturer instructions packed with each unit for optimum placement advice.

Teach all family members, including young children, the difference between alarms sounded by smoke detectors and those by CO detectors. A good time to do this is during the monthly alarm tests recommended by manufacturers and safety experts.

If a carbon-monoxide alarm sounds, open windows and doors for fresh air ventilation, leave the premises and immediately call the fire department or natural-gas utility to report the alarm. Firefighters or utility professionals will arrive with detection equipment capable of tracking down the source of the gas.

Regularly vacuum the detector’s vents to minimize dust and keep it working at top efficiency. Clean the plastic cases of most alarms with a soft cloth moistened with a detergent solution. Wipe dry with a clean cloth. To prevent shock hazards or equipment damage, never spray any liquid directly onto, or inside, any electrical appliance. Carbon monoxide and smoke alarms should never be painted.

Finally, consider replacing any carbon-monoxide detector that has been in service for more than five years. Older detectors slowly lose the ability to detect this deadly gas.


National Fire Protection Association.

Carbon monoxide alarm:  Created on November 3rd, 2009.  Last Modified on December 27th, 2009


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