First Alert, fire departments work to educate the public about replacing expiring CO alarms

This year marks the seventh anniversary of Maryland’s carbon monoxide (CO) alarm law (Maryland House Bill 401) which requires the installation of CO alarms in many newly constructed buildings, including one- and two-family units, multi-family units, hotels, motels and dormitories. Since then, the Old Line State has led the country in protecting its residents from the dangers of this invisible, odorless and potentially fatal gas, with dozens of other states following suit.

Fast-forward seven years from groundbreaking legislation, though, and health and safety officials have a growing new concern: the need to replace CO alarms as they approach expiration.

“Thanks to efforts of Maryland legislators, many potential CO-related injuries or deaths have been prevented,” said Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, a leader in residential fire and CO detection devices. “But installing CO alarms is only half of the story – conducting ongoing alarm maintenance, including replacing expired alarms, is necessary to maintain a home’s level of protection.”

While alarm lifespans may vary by model and manufacturer, a properly maintained CO alarm installed when Maryland’s law was enacted likely has a lifespan of approximately five to seven years, according to Hanson. Therefore, alarms installed when the law first came into effect are likely now due for replacement. As an extra safety measure, end-of-life warnings are built into most CO alarms to alert residents to the need for replacement.

“If you can’t think of the last time you installed a smoke or CO alarm, chances are, it’s time to replace your old ones,” Hanson said. “Installing new alarms ensures a person is protected with the most advanced CO sensing technologies and latest safety features available. Conversely, by neglecting to replace alarms, you could be putting yourself, your family or tenants in serious risk.”

While legislation exists in Maryland, statistics show that many Americans either do not have enough CO alarms in their homes or have never installed an alarm. A national survey* revealed that 90 percent of homes do not meet the recommendation for number of carbon monoxide detectors, including 40 percent that report having zero working carbon monoxide detectors.

The last few years have seen significant advancements in technology, extending the lifespans of CO alarms to at least seven years. Improvements in style also have resulted in decorator-friendly models that blend high tech with high design.

Known as the “silent killer,” CO is a colorless and odorless gas that is impossible to detect without a sensing device. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning is the number one cause of accidental poisoning in the United States and is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year. Heaters, fireplaces, furnaces, appliances and cooking sources using coal, wood, or petroleum products are all potential sources of CO.

CO poisoning can cause symptoms such as nausea, headaches, dizziness, chest pain and vomiting that mimic those of many other illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose. In severe poisoning cases, victims can experience disorientation, unconsciousness, long-term neurological disabilities, cardio respiratory failure or death.