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 2015, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 15,607 CO incidents and in 30%, or 4,782 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 Thursday, March 26, 2015, the Springfield Fire Department was called to an apartment building after carbon monoxide alarms alerted residents. Upon investigation firefighters measured CO levels at 118 ppm in the basement and lesser amounts on the four other floors. The source of the CO was smoldering wires left over from an electrical fire in a manhole just outside the apartment building. The CO traveled down the conduit from the street to the building.

  • On Thursday, June 25, 2015, the Norfolk Fire Department was called to a single-family home for a malfunctioning CO alarm. Upon arrival firefighters found all the CO alarms inside the home had activated. They discovered elevated levels of CO throughout the home caused by a blockage between the chimney and the heating system and circulated throughout the home by the air conditioning system. The residents showed no symptoms of CO poisoning.

  • On Wednesday, December 30, 2015, a 10-year old Douglas boy awoke to a beeping sound. While on the phone with his mother, he decided to go downstairs and check the CO alarm – it was going off. He woke his older brother and they both exited the home and then called the fire department. When Douglas firefighters arrived on scene, they detected high levels of CO inside the home. The home’s furnace was believed to be the cause of the elevated levels of CO.

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