Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Detectors


Pick the right carbon monoxide alarm!

(Read this . . . it can save your life!)

If you read the story about the family in Chicago that died overnight — by all accounts educated and competent — you will realize carbon monoxide poisoning could kill anyone. Don’t become a victim.

In California, where we live, the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act (Senate Bill- SB 183) was passed in 2011. It requires all single-family homes with an attached garage or a fossil fuel source (oil, gas, propane) to install carbon monoxide alarms within the home. Owners of multi-family leased or rental properties had to comply with the law by January 1 of 2013.

  • New homes (or new construction such as a remodel) must have hardwired alarms with battery backup.
  • Existing homes may have hardwired alarms with battery backup, plug-in with battery backup, or simply battery operated.
  • Alarms must be installed outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the house.

carbon monoxide alarmAgain, the above applies to California as I write this (January, 2014). Other states have different requirements; if you own or live in a rental property, you are probably required to have alarms. Check with your own state or locality to be sure you meet the latest requirements. 

What is the difference between a carbon monoxide alarm and a carbon monoxide detector?

A carbon monoxide alarm is a stand-alone unit that has its own built-in power supply and audible signal. A carbon monoxide detector is part of a fire alarm system and gets its power from the fire alarm. There are also battery-operated combination smoke/CO alarms.

(If you are a professional home inspector or simply a very concerned consumer, you can use a carbon monoxide detection METER to measure levels within your home.)

All these devices must meet certain UL (Underwriters Laboratory) standards to be sold.

Be sure you understand the role of batteries in these devices.

  • The batteries in a hardwired CO alarm are meant to provide protection in the event of a power outage. If you intend to get a hardwired version, check on the type and size of battery and how long it is expected to last.
  • All battery-operated devices have a finite life-span, and are assumed to come to the end at some point. Check on life-span, which may range from 5 to 10 years.
  • In any case, check on the date of manufacture and get the newest device possible. (And read consumer reviews about how hard it is to replace batteries. Some models get complaints about the battery doors not closing properly.)

The models in the chart below show the different features you’ll want to look for: power type, display, audible warning.  All these receive excellent ratings from consumer reporting agencies.  Their prices range from a low of around $14 to a high of about $35. If you click on the image or on the link you will be taken to Amazon. Be sure to take the time to compare prices there — sometimes the same item is for sale at two or three different prices!

If you can’t decide which one to get, get two! The worst thing you can do is fail to act at all.

Plug-Ins are easiest to use. Press the button to get a digital readout of CO levels.

First Alert CO615 Carbon Monoxide Plug-In Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display
A plug-in that provides a continuous display updated every 15 seconds.

Kidde KN-COPP-3 Nighthawk Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display

Battery-operated can be placed anywhere. Sounds horn when dangerous levels are reached. The simplest, smallest and most popular model. This is the two-pack.

First Alert CO400 Battery Powered Carbon Monoxide Alarm, 2-Pack
Combination model smoke and CO alarm, issues verbal warning: "Fire! Fire!" and "Warning! Carbon monoxide!" Also has a low-battery alert and Hush Mode for silencing the smoke alarm.

Kidde KN-COSM-B Battery-Operated Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Talking Alarm
Model Kidde KN-COSM-1B is the hard-wired version of the Kidde combination alarm described above.

Kidde KN-COSM-IB Hardwire Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Battery Backup and Voice Warning, Interconnectable

Some of the most recent best sellers:

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