Carbon Monoxide Detectors, Do I Need One?

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission identified carbon monoxide (CO) as the leading cause of gas poisoning deaths in the U.S. Thousands of cases of illness, brain damage and death could be prevented if all residences had CO detectors.


CO alarms for household use have become widely available. When selecting a CO alarm, make sure it bears the stamp of Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Modern CO alarms can provide warnings for even nonlethal levels CO. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends having at least one CO alarm in every home, The detector must be located where carbon monoxide can reach it, and where the alarm will awaken persons sleeping in the dwelling. Locate additional detectors near gas appliances. Do not locate a detector in a garage, kitchen or furnace room. CO detectors should be at least 15 feet from the furnace, water heating or cooking appliances. Do not mount them in dusty, dirty or greasy areas, or in extremely humid areas.


Look for an alarm with a long-term warranty and one that easily can be self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning. Some inexpensive alarms consist of a card with a spot (spot detectors) that changes color in the presence of CO. This type of device does not provide adequate warning because ofthe absence of an audible signal.


Battery-operated alarms are portable and will function during a power failure, which is when emergency heating might be used. Line-powered alarms (110 volt) require electrical outlets but do not need batteries. They will not function during a power failure. Some line-powered alarms have battery backups that make it operational during power failure.

If you hear a CO detector alarm, DO NOT IGNORE IT! Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and/or confusion. If you suspect poisoning, get everyone out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. Tell the doctor that you suspect CO poisoning. If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air. Turn off all potential sources of CO: oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater, and any vehicle or small engine that may be idling in the garage or carport.

Have a qualified technician inspect your chimneys and fuel burning appliances to make sure they are operating correctly and that nothing is blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house. CO detectors can and do save lives!

Resources: Colorado State University Extension and Iowa State University


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