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Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five years

Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information, University of Missouri

Carbon monoxide detectorHomeowners may be surprised to learn that they need to replace the carbon monoxide detector they bought just a few years ago.

"Carbon monoxide detectors are only good for about five years," said Michael Goldschmidt, a housing and environmental design specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

The arrival of cooler weather brings increased risk for carbon monoxide poisoning as people kick on natural gas and propane furnaces. "One of the most common areas where carbon monoxide occurs is the furnace and the flue," Goldschmidt said.

Detectors use an electrochemical element to measure the carbon monoxide levels in the air, he said.

"After five years, the carbon monoxide detector can function improperly," he said. "It could ring when there isn't a high level of carbon monoxide or not ring when carbon monoxide levels are high."

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include headaches, tightness of chest, dizziness, fatigue, confusion and breathing difficulties. Severe exposure to carbon monoxide can cause brain damage and death, Goldschmidt said.

Unintentional carbon dioxide poisoning results in about 2,100 deaths per year, according to researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who believe more than half of those deaths could be prevented with carbon monoxide detectors.

Gas furnaces, as well as gas-powered water heaters, stoves and other appliances, generate small amounts of carbon monoxide as a byproduct of combustion.

"If they are not working properly, they will produce large amounts" of the odorless, colorless gas, he said. "We recommend that you get the furnace checked every year."

Homeowners should install carbon monoxide detectors, which will sound an alarm when carbon monoxide levels are high, on each level of their house. Detectors should be placed outside of bedrooms, Goldschmidt said.

"The room could have dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, and you would be exposed to dangerous levels before the detector rings," he said.

Carbon monoxide detectors should have a battery back up and be tested monthly. Detectors also should be tested after power outages. Those with a number read out should be reset before testing.

If a carbon monoxide detector goes off, get out immediately and then call the fire department. "Even the time you take to open a window is enough to be exposed to dangerous levels," warns Goldschmidt.



Source: Michael Goldschmidt,


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Last update: Monday, November 03, 2014