If you watch the local news, you’ve probably seen at some point a dramatic piece along these lines: “It’s an odorless, colorless gas. It can collect undetected in enclosed spaces. In the right concentration, it’s deadly. Could it be lurking in your home?” Sounds pretty scary, right? And it is—carbon monoxide poisoning is no joke. No wonder carbon monoxide detectors have become so popular. We’ll talk about those in a second, but first make sure you understand what this gas is.

What Is Carbon Monoxide, and What Causes It?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of some kind of fuel burning. The Minnesota Department of Public Health sums it up this way:

In simple terms, CO is produced whenever a material burns. Homes with fuel-burning appliances or attached garages are more likely to have CO problems.

So the more appliances and devices you have that burn fuel, the more you’re at risk. Fuel-burning appliances are more common and more numerous the colder your climate, so if you live somewhere cold, you likely have quite a few and might be at higher risk.

Again according to the Minnesota Department of Public Health, fuel-burning appliances include ones like these:

  • water heaters
  • fireplaces
  • automobiles
  • wood stoves
  • clothes dryers
  • boilers or furnaces
  • lawn equipment and gas powered tools

How Do I Know if I’m Exposed to Carbon Monoxide?

In short, you don’t know if you don’t have a detector. You might start to notice some symptoms, but it’s easy to dismiss those as something else (such as the flu). That’s why it’s important to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in your home! If you do start to notice any of those symptoms and otherwise have been feeling healthy, get outdoors immediately. If the symptoms subside, it might be carbon monoxide poisoning. If you suspect this, it’s time to call the professionals for help. You’ll want to get examined by a medical professional, and once you have the all clear for your own health, you need to solve the issue in your home. Home service companies may be able to help diagnose the issue.

How Often Should I Replace my Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

The conventional wisdom on this is to replace the detectors once every five to seven years, but there’s a little more to it than that. Consumer Reports offers a helpful guide that points out that these detectors will start emitting a chirping sound at the end of their useful life that’s different than the chirping sound that means “change my battery.” So most of the time, you only need to replace them when you hear the chirp. They also point out that newer, digital models usually have a digital display of some kind and can tell you if they are malfunctioning.

The good news is these things are designed to self-monitor and let you know if they detect a problem within. But just in case, you should also check the battery twice a year and test it regularly using the test/reset button. This will ensure the device is working properly when you need it most.


What If I’m Not Sure How to Proceed?

If you don’t want to tackle installing carbon monoxide detectors yourself, or if you suspect something might be wrong with the ones you have, you can call a local service person to assist. If you have a monitored home security system, the technician who installs and maintains that system may be able to help with your carbon monoxide detectors, too. And if you’re interested in monitored home security, get a free quote from Protect America right away.