CO alarms are affordable and widely available – and thanks to new regulations that came into force this year, homeowners are required to install one in any room containing a stationary combustion appliance, such as a boiler or wood-burning stove. But as obvious as it sounds, alarms are only useful if we pay attention to them – and with CO, that’s not always the case.
“When a fire alarm goes off, it’s very easy to see or hear if there’s a fire, or if it’s a nuisance false alarm from burning toast or a burning candle. “, explains Mr. Speake. “With the CO, it’s not easy to see right away. So something Aico strongly advocates for is dismissing CO alarms as nuisance events, thoroughly investigating any alarm events.
Thanks to modern CO alarms that send data to the cloud, Speake says Aico has seen this happen in real time; moments after a CO alarm event, some residents dismissed it as a false alarm and removed the device altogether.
“It’s a very important message that CO alarms generally don’t set off nuisance alarms,” he says. “Their electrochemical cells are incredibly accurate at detecting CO. Whatever the CO alarm event, it should never be ignored.”
Mr Speake points out that fire alarms and CO alarms emit different sounds – a fact that members of the public might not be aware of. “There is therefore a very strong argument for regularly testing the alarms. This is not a new message; the industry has been campaigning on this for years,” he explains. “It’s about making sure your alarm is working, but also getting familiar with the sound of the alarm.”
We should all test our CO alarms at least once a month, he suggests. How do we do this?
In addition to installing and testing alarms, it is essential that homeowners ensure that all fuel-burning appliances are checked regularly. “Homeowners are required to have their boilers serviced regularly at annual intervals,” says Speake. “But there are other appliances in the property, like gas stoves, and they’re not necessarily serviced as regularly – so make sure they’re looked at regularly.”
It’s also important to keep flues clean and in good repair, he adds, because clogged chimneys can prevent gases like CO from escaping into the outside air. “The National Association of Chimney Sweeps is always pushing that message,” Mr. Speake said. “It’s really important.”
In addition to checking our alarms, it is crucial to replace them in a timely manner. “CO alarms have a lifespan,” he explains. “For older alarms, it was five to seven years; modern alarms tend to last 10 years. It’s an electrochemical cell – there are liquid elements inside, that’s why the alarms have a lifespan – and this also applies to mains powered alarms.
Luckily, you don’t have to guess when they’re about to stop working. “It’s a requirement that alarms must notify when they are nearing the end of their life,” says Speake. “Typically they will do this with a periodic beep, with a different tone than the alarm. Often this will be accompanied by a visual cue, and there should also be clear labeling on the side of the device.”
We may not be able to detect CO using our senses – but it is still our eyes and ears, coupled with following safety rules, that will protect us from this invisible and deadly threat.