This month marks the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Illinois Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector Act (Public Act 094-0741), which requires homeowners and landlords to install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in all buildings containing bedrooms and sleeping facilities. Since then, the Prairie State has led the country in protecting its citizens from the dangers of this invisible, odorless and potentially fatal gas, with dozens of other states, including neighboring Wisconsin, following suit.
Fast-forward five years from groundbreaking legislation, health and safety officials have a growing new concern: the need to replace CO alarms as they approach expiration.
Thanks to efforts of Illinois legislators, many potential CO-related injuries or deaths have been prevented,” said Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, a leader in residential fire and CO detection devices. “But installing CO alarms is only half of the story – conducting ongoing alarm maintenance, including replacing expired alarms, is necessary to maintain a home’s level of protection.”
While alarm lifespans may vary by model and manufacturer, a properly maintained CO alarm has a lifespan of approximately five to seven years, according to Hanson. Therefore, homes that installed CO alarms when the Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector Act first came into effect are likely now due for replacement.
If you can’t think of the last time you installed a smoke or CO alarm, chances are, it’s time to replace your old ones,” Hanson said. “Installing new alarms ensures a home is protected with the most advanced CO sensing technologies and latest safety features available. Conversely, by neglecting to replace alarms, you could be putting yourself, your family or tenants in serious risk.”
Known as the “silent killer,” CO is a colorless and odorless gas that is impossible to detect without a sensing device. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning is the number one cause of accidental poisoning in the United States and is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year. Heaters, fireplaces, furnaces, appliances and cooking sources using coal, wood, or petroleum products are all potential sources of CO.
CO poisoning can cause symptoms such as nausea, headaches, dizziness, chest pain and vomiting that mimic those of many other illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose. In severe poisoning cases, victims can experience disorientation, unconsciousness, long-term neurological disabilities, cardio respiratory failure or death.
In addition to replacing CO alarms as they reach expiration, Hanson recommends the following tips and tools for keeping your home safer from CO:
Protect Against CO Poisoning
• Run kitchen vents or exhaust fans anytime the stove is in use. The kitchen stove is among the most frequent sources of CO poisoning in the home. To help eliminate danger of overexposure, always run exhaust fans when cooking, especially during the holidays when stoves are left on for longer periods of time. Also open a nearby window periodically when cooking to allow fresh air to circulate.
• Never use generators indoors. In the case of a power outage, portable electric generators must be used outside only. Never use them inside the home, in a garage or in any confined area that can allow CO to collect. And, be careful to follow operating instructions closely. Also refrain from using charcoal grills, camp stoves and other similar devices indoors.
• Have fuel-burning appliances inspected regularly. Arrange for a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances (such as furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters) annually to detect any CO leaks.
• Test CO alarms. CO alarms are the only way to detect this poisonous gas, yet nearly one-half of Americans report not having CO alarms in their homes1. For as little as $25, a First Alert CO alarm can help protect a home and family from potential tragedy. Install alarms on every level of the home and near each sleeping area for maximum protection. Test alarm function monthly and change batteries every six months.
• Be mindful of the garage. Running vehicles inside an attached garage, even if the door is open, is hazardous, as CO can leak into the home.
• Know the number. Call 911 and leave the home immediately if the CO alarm sounds.
Additional CO Alarm Guidelines
• Clear CO alarms of all dust and debris.
• Ensure that alarms are plugged all the way into the outlet or, if battery operated, have working batteries installed. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
• Make certain each person can hear the CO alarm sound from his or her sleeping room and that the sound is loud enough to awaken everyone. If young children are in the house, consider a new Child Awakening Smoke and CO combination alarm from First Alert. Studies have shown that children ages six to 10 wake more easily to a voice than to the traditional audible beep of an alarm.
• Make sure the alarms are installed at least 15 feet away from sources of CO to reduce the number of nuisance alarms.
For more information on home safety products from First Alert, visit www.firstalert.com. For more information on the Illinois Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector Act, visit http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=094-0741.