The Invisible Killer: Carbon Monoxide

One small device can do more than detect a poisonous and fatal gas; it can save millions of lives. Every day, families across the United States are saved by carbon monoxide alarms in their homes. This small device can alert families early on of a carbon monoxide leak, before it’s too late. Wouldn’t you want to protect your loved ones from an “invisible killer”?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is emitted through incomplete burning fuels. The source of these fuels can range from fireplaces, attached garages, oil heating appliances, cooking sources and appliances, wood or wood-burning products, propane or natural gas furnaces, gas or diesel fuel products, and bio, agricultural, or other fuel-burning types of heating stoves. If a fuel burning product malfunctions or becomes faulty, the potential for a release of carbon monoxide is then created.

You may have heard the notion that carbon monoxide is heavier than air, causing it to remain in lower levels of homes. In reality, carbon monoxide and air are practically the same weight. This means that carbon monoxide has the ability to distribute uniformly throughout a home, not just in lower levels. Carbon monoxide cannot be detected manually due to its gas being odorless, colorless, and tasteless. This hazard is what creates the need for carbon monoxide alarms located throughout homes and buildings.

Understanding the proper locations of a carbon monoxide alarm is vital for the safety of the homeowners and its occupants. According the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, these alarms must be installed in basements, and on each floor level of a dwelling. However, it is not necessary to place such alarms in attics, garages, or storage areas, as long as there is not any fuel burning appliance present. As you may already know, on February 1, 2011, the Wisconsin requirements for carbon monoxide alarms changed drastically from past warranties. The new requirement mandates that carbon monoxide alarms must be placed in all residential spaces, despite the age of the dwelling.

Carbon Monoxide Alarm Placement in Homes
Proper in home Carbon Monoxide alarm placement

Battery operated, plug-in, combination units (smoke alarm and carbon monoxide as one), or direct-wired carbon monoxide alarms all constitute as appropriate-styled devices for homes. The only clause for the case of new construction is that all alarms must have a battery-backup equipped on the device to ensure safety. It is important to remember that altering or damaging a carbon monoxide alarm is not only severely harmful, but illegal. Many times, homeowners or occupants may want to paint an alarm to help conceal it. This type of activity is prohibited in all cases of alarms; by painting an alarm, it could cause the unit to become inoperative.

Sample Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Sample Carbon Monoxide alarms: plug-in (left) and battery-operated (right)

Installation of carbon monoxide alarms is a fairly easy and straightforward process. It is best to read and follow instructions that are listed on the unit’s packaging. During installation of the alarm, always keep in mind that any type of alarm should be placed out of reach from pets and children to avoid tampering. One will also find important information on the label that explains how to ‘test’ the device and guarantee that it is working effectively. The “test” button can be a useful function because carbon monoxide alarms can be falsely triggered by other gasses such as hair spray, alcohol, carbon dioxide, cleaning fluids, and more. Acceptable locations to mount the alarm would consist of ceilings and sidewalls. The placement of an alarm is not acceptable in a corner pitch of a room.

Carbon monoxide alarms should be regularly tested to safeguard against malfunctions. Alarms that contain batteries for operation should have its batteries replaced annually, or when the low battery warning sounds. Other types of alarms can be tested by following the manufactures instructions found on the packaging. In addition to testing procedures, one can also find the lifespan of the alarm listed on the label of the product. Generally, most carbon monoxide alarms have a maximum lifespan of five years.

For more information regarding carbon monoxide alarm regulations, please view the Requirements for One- and Two-Family Homes or the Requirements for Multi-Unit Buildings from the State of Wisconsin.