Carbon Monoxide Detectors – Is it Time to Upgrade?

Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms have been required in nearly every residence in Massachusetts since March of 2006. The life expectancy of carbon monoxide alarms is 5-7 years, depending on the make and model. Many alarms installed as a result of this recent law have already reached the end of their useful lives and need to be replaced.

It’s just a fact -appliances don’t last forever. In addition, manufacturers continuously make new models with improvements and features not previously available. This new year, make it a point to upgrade your carbon monoxide detectors, or at the very least, test the ones you have and make sure they are fully operational.

One of the signs that a carbon monoxide alarm has reached the “end of life” stage will be a “chirping” that does not stop until the unit is powered off. For models with a digital read out, it will have an “ERR” or “EO9” or “END” message. Another sign could be if it makes the low battery signal even after new batteries are installed.

How is CO Dangerous?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the Invisible Killer because it is a poisonous gas that has no visible color, taste, or odor. When you breath it in, it makes you feel nauseous, dizzy, headachy, and tired -similar to flu-like symptoms. It poisons the body by removing oxygen in the blood stream, slowly suffocating you. It makes it hard to think clearly.

In October 2016, two floors of the Springfield Marriott were evacuated after a malfunctioning boiler caused a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide levels. The lives of 50 guests were potentially saved thanks to the CO detector present in the hotel.

In December 2016, a furnace leak caused the carbon monoxide poisoning and deaths of a father and son in Acushnet, Massachusetts. Emergency crews said carbon monoxide levels in the home were very high when they entered, exceeding 400 parts per million at the door and 3000 in the basement where the leaking furnace was located. Carbon monoxide detectors sound at 30 parts per million, but the home did not have a carbon monoxide detector. The father and son died in their sleep. This incident shows the life-saving importance of having a carbon monoxide detector in your home and office.

Sources of CO

Faulty heating equipment is the leading cause of CO incidents. CO leaks can also come from hot water heaters, gas stoves, gas dryers, barbecue grills, fireplaces, cars, lawn mowers, snow blowers, and generators running inside a garage. A large number of CO incidents take place between the months of November and February and between 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. This is the time when most heating equipment is being used at home

It’s the Law

In 2005, then-Governor Mitt Romney signed “Nicole’s Law,” named after 7-year old Nicole Garofalo who died when her Plymouth home was filled with deadly amounts of carbon monoxide. The furnace vents of her home were blocked by snow during a power outage. The law requires the installation of carbon monoxide alarms on every level of a home, including habitable portions of basements and attics, in most residences. On levels with sleeping areas, carbon monoxide alarms should be installed within 10-feet of bedroom doors.

Nicole’s Law also requires landlords to install and maintain CO alarms in every dwelling unit that has a source of carbon monoxide. Large apartment buildings, where there is no source inside the individual apartments, may use an alternative method to detect CO near the furnace, boiler rooms or garage.

Purchasing Detectors

When purchasing a CO alarm, be sure to look for the approval label of an independent testing company, such as Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or International Approval Service/Canadian Standards Association (IAS/CSA). Most CO alarms sold in Massachusetts meet these standards, but it is a good idea to check before buying your CO alarm.

The CO detectors may be:

  • Battery operated with battery monitoring
  • Plug-ins with battery back-up
  • Low voltage system
  • Wireless
  • Qualified combination (smoke/carbon monoxide alarm)

If you have a plug-in model, be aware that the battery will run down during an extended power outage and may need to be replaced frequently. It should certainly be replaced when the power is restored.

Safety Precautions

  • Have a qualified service technician inspect your appliances yearly, before the heating season.
  • During snowstorms, keep furnace and dryer vents clear.
  • Regularly check vent pipes, flues and chimneys for leaks or blockages.
  • Remember: un-vented kerosene heaters are illegal in Massachusetts!
  • Snow can block car tailpipes outdoors. When it’s snowing out, always check tailpipes before starting your car.
  • Do not use a gas oven to heat your home.
  • Don’t leave a vehicle running inside a garage, even if the door is open. Fumes will build up quickly inside the home.
  • Change CO detector batteries at least twice a year. Newer models have a 10-year sealed lithium battery that does not need changing. At 10 years, the entire device is replaced.

For more information, please go to: and do a search for “Carbon Monoxide.”


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