photo of a CO alarm

Beat the Beep: Replace Aging CO Alarms – They Don’t Last Forever
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 make and model, and many CO alarms installed as a result of this recent law are now reaching the end of their useful lives and need to be replaced. No home appliance lasts forever.

How is carbon monoxide (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 nauseas, dizzy, headachy, and tired like you have the flu. It poisons the body by removing oxygen in the blood stream, slowly suffocating you. It makes it hard to think clearly.

Where Does CO Come From?
Heating equipment is the leading cause of CO incidents. It can also come from hot water heaters, gas stoves, gas dryers, barbecue grills, fireplaces, and from cars, lawn mowers, snow blowers or generators running inside the garage – even with the door open. 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.

Nicole's Law:

  • Nicole's Law was passed to protect the people of Massachusetts from the danger of carbon monoxide gas and to prevent carbon monoxide related deaths and injuries.
  • In 2014, Massachusetts fire departments responded to just over 15,000 CO incidents and in one-quarter, or over 4,000 cases, the presence of CO was confirmed.

Placement, Purchasing and Maintenance of CO Alarms

  • The law requires carbon monoxide alarms be installed on every level of the 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.
  • 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 that are sold in Massachusetts meet these standards, but it is a good idea to check before buying your CO alarm.
  • The CO alarms may be:
    • Battery operated with battery monitoring
    • Plug-ins with battery back-up
    • Low voltage system
    • Wireless
    • Qualified combination (smoke/carbon monoxide alarm)
  • Beat the Beep and replace CO alarms every 5-7 years, depending on the make and model.
  • If you have a plug-in model, be aware 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. They use a different technology than one that runs only on battery power, which won’t be affected by the power outage.

CO Alarms Save Lives
Every year since the law was passed, many lives have been saved because of carbon monoxide alarms alerted people to the invisible danger when the levels were still relatively low and escape possible.

  • On Sunday, February 3, 2014, the Onset Fire Department responded to a single-family home for a carbon monoxide (CO) call. The home’s CO detectors had been sounding for approximately 45 minutes. The residents thought it was just a low battery alarm and changed the batteries, but the alarm continued to sound. They called the fire department and were told to evacuate the home. Upon arrival, firefighters discovered dangerous levels of CO in the home from a wood burning stove. Two occupants were taken to a local hospital for observation and treatment.

  • On Tuesday, April 21, 2014, the Weymouth Fire Department responded to a single-family home for a report of ill occupants. Upon arrival firefighters measured the air in the home with a specialized meter and recorded CO levels of 496 PPM. An elderly couple and two children were transported to a local hospital for CO poisoning. The origin of the CO was a car that had been started in an attached garage. The car had just run out of gas before the fire department arrived. The home did not have any CO detectors.

Sadly, there are still deaths every year from CO poisoning in homes that have not yet installed CO alarms or failed to maintain them.