Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Here's a primer on the dangers of carbon monoxide in the home and detectors and alarms to warn you of any problem in your house.

By Gene And Katie Hamilton

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning death in the country so every home should have a carbon monoxide detector to sound an alarm if this dangerous gas is present. You can't see or smell carbon monoxide, which is created by most appliances that use flammable fuels such as gas, oil, wood, propane, coal or kerosene. A faulty forced air furnace or the venting system to a fireplace with a blocked or damaged flue, even a car left running in an attached garage, can cause a fatal build up of this deadly gas.

Today's home carbon monoxide detectors are alarms designed to warn you before health threatening levels accumulate so installing them is your best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. Anyone can install one of these devices - even a not-so-handy homeowner - in less than an hour. You'll find them sold at hardware stores and home centers for under $45, well worth the sense of security.

The alarms are either plug-in devices that are activated when plugged into any standard household electrical outlet or powered by a 9-volt battery and installed on the wall. The advantage of a plug-in detector is the ease of installation; the downside is there's no protection if there's a power outage and when power is restored it takes time to recalibrate.

Battery-operated devices will provide continuous protection, but you do have to replace the batteries when you hear the low battery warning (usually every 6-8 months). Here's the basic steps of installing one. First, insert the batteries following the battery polarity markings on the bottom of the compartment. Put the "-" end of the battery at the end marked "- " and the "+" end of the battery at the "+" mark.

Next, remove the mounting plate from the back of the alarm by twisting it counterclockwise (left). Hold the plate against the wall and mark the holes with a pencil. Drill a hole through the pencil marks for the plastic wall anchors and screws provided with the device. Gently tap the anchors into the holes with a hammer, then put the plate in place and insert the screws into the anchor and tighten them. Install the alarm on its base plate by rotating it clockwise (right) until its mounting tabs are aligned and you hear it snap in place. Follow the directions to activate the test button.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends locating a detector near the sleeping area of a house, where it can wake you if you are asleep. Additional detectors on every level and in every bedroom provide extra protection. If you install it at eye level you'll be more likely to test it frequently, a good habit to develop.

All carbon monoxide detectors should have these features:

  • emergency alarm
  • easy-to-operate test and reset button to keep you informed
  • light that indicates the power is on
  • digital display indicating carbon monoxide level
  • low battery warning

You'll find more sophisticated devices that combined smoke and carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide and natural gas alarms. Some feature a night light and a dual voice and alarm warning system. After a loud alarm sounds you hear a voice message "Fire!" or "Warning Carbon Monoxide!" or "Low Battery."