Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is in the news. Earlier this winter, there were a couple of schools that were evacuated because of high levels of Carbon Monoxide. Recently, here in New England we lost 3 of 4 members of a local family, a manager of a Legal Seafood restaurant and we had the evacuation of a hotel because of high Carbon Monoxide coming from their kitchens.
The laws regarding CO detectors typically specify that they need to be installed where any fossil burning appliances are located and near sleeping areas. However CO can get into a building any number of ways: for instance, the Legal Seafood restaurant had a defective chimney and the gas leaked into the building. This type of incident was responsible for the creation of Vermont's CO Law.
So will the laws change? The answer is yes: they are constantly changing and you’re going to see that the need for CO detectors is going to spread from the bedroom to the boardroom. We are going to have to start looking for CO gas not just in the room adjacent to the garage, but also adjacent to the chimney or flu; not just within 10 feet of a sleeping area, but close to a classroom.
We've established that the requirements for CO detectors are only going to increase. Now you need to know what you are buying. There are 100's of choices for CO detectors out there. What are the features and benefits, why are some inexpensive and others cost so much? First, let's take a look at what is important in a CO detector?
Ease of Installation
What is the easiest CO detector to install?
We have the First Alert (BRK) models CO600B and CO605B. These units simply plug into a standard wall socket and you're off and running. They are relatively inexpensive and have a 5 year warranty. The CO605B has a 9 Volt Battery as a backup in case you lose power or someone unplugs the unit to run the vacuum.
Next are the Battery Operated units. These have the advantage that they can be put anywhere, not just where a plug may be. These units are the First Alert CO400B, the Air Products APC-9V-CO and APC-9V-CO-S (combo CO and Smoke). We can also recommend BRK's SC05BN and SC07B (which has a Voice Alert feature).
Simply put, a CO detectors needs to detect Carbon Monoxide; or in the case of a combo unit, CO and Smoke.
Battery operated devices are great until the battery dies at 3 AM and the device begins beeping every 3 or 4 minutes. How many times have you heard reports of fire fatalities where they said there were smoke detectors installed, but no batteries?
120 Volt Plug-in Devices are limited by the location of the AC sockets and they are not interconnected. Most battery-only or 120 Volt with battery backup devices that are of the "Hardwired" variety (not plug in) are interconnect able. Interconnected simply means that if a CO detector in the basement senses CO and activates, it will activate all of the detectors that are wired together and notify everyone in the residence of the emergency. In many cases, many models made by the same manufacturer will "talk" to each other. For example, if you have 3 BRK Smoke Alarms, 2 Combo Smoke/CO Alarms and 2 CO detectors, they will all interconnect and notify the occupants of either a fire (coded "3") or Carbon Monoxide (coded "4").
The last type of CO detector is the system detector. System detectors are not plug-in or battery operated. System detectors are hardwired into a fire or combination fire/burglar panel or HVAC controller. System devices operate on either 12 or 24 VDC and have either a set of contacts that initiate an alarm in the control panel or have an analog output which changes as the levels of CO in the room change.
The latter are used in sophisticated HVAC systems that initiate purge fans at low levels and evacuation signals as the CO rises to dangerous levels. As a note of interest, the Gentex CO1209F 120V hardwired detector has relay outputs for connection to alarm systems, fans, etc... all of these relay connections will function when the main power goes out. Not all units with relays can claim that.
So what CO detector is right for you? Not all applications are the same, which is why all the different styles of detectors are successful in the marketplace. Let me give you a few guidelines:
- Dollars are usually the bottom line in most of these decisions. Let me ask you; would you accept a heart transplant from the lowest bidder? Don't let price be the highest priority when choosing life safety devices.
- Ease of installation: plug-in types or battery-only devices do work (they wouldn't be on the market if they didn't). However they have limitations as to placement and in the case of the battery-operated detectors, maintenance issues.
- 120 volt devices with battery backup is what most Fire Departments are requiring; they are dependable, placed where the detection is required and can be interconnected so that the individual detectors act like a single system in the event of an emergency. They should be installed by a licensed electrician and you will need to make sure you have all compatible devices (for example, a BRK detector will not interconnect with a Gentex detector).
- The final and critically important issue is lifespan. Smoke alarms can last a long time, although the codes are specifying a 10 to 12 year service life of smoke alarms. CO detectors last as little as 3 and as many as 7 years. Make sure you ask for the lifespan or warranty period for any CO detector you purchase.
* The Macurco PS-12 allows the CM-E1 to be powered off of 120 VAC (with no battery backup).
If you need help choosing the right carbon monoxide detector for your application, please call us at 800-837-8175. We're always here to help.