Do carbon monoxide detectors expire? When should you replace them?

by | May 21, 2024

In 2016–17, carbon monoxide toxicity contributed to 4% of all unintentional poisoning deaths in Australia, as reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Yet, the good news is that carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely avoidable! Your primary defence? Ensuring there’s a functional carbon monoxide detector installed on every floor of your home.

The quiet threat: What is carbon monoxide?

Often referred to as “the invisible killer,” carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless gas generated during the incomplete combustion of gasoline, propane, wood, charcoal, or other fuels. A malfunctioning furnace or water heater can quite quickly elevate CO levels in your house. Additionally, using gas-powered tools or appliances indoors or operating a vehicle in an enclosed area can result in lethal CO accumulations.

However, unfortunately, not many homes have them installed, so you need to be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should it happen.

How to spot the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in the absence of a CO detector

Feeling dizzy, nauseous, having headaches, or struggling to catch your breath? These could be signs of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. If left unaddressed, it can lead to unconsciousness or even death. Children and pets might exhibit symptoms first since they breathe more frequently than adults.

If you notice symptoms improving once you step outside, or if everyone at home feels unwell, don’t wait. Leave right away and seek medical help. Only return home after the local fire department confirms it’s safe. Your health and safety come first!

Because we can’t sense carbon monoxide, a CO detector is a must for identifying its presence so you can ensure the safety of your loved ones.

What are CO detectors?

A carbon monoxide detector or a CO alarm is a device designed to alert you when carbon monoxide levels become hazardous. These detectors look quite like smoke alarms and you can even find ones that combine both functions, keeping you doubly safe.

Where should CO detectors be placed?

It’s wise to invest in new CO detectors regularly and ensure you check the expiration date before installation. You’ll typically find this date on the back of the device. To optimise protection, consider strategic placements such as:

  • Bedrooms or other sleeping areas
  • Above gadgets that burn fuel
  • Basements and attics
  • Garage and workshops

A little foresight can go a long way in safeguarding your home and family.

💡Bell Electrical tip: It’s always a good idea to have a professional electrician assess your house and install a carbon monoxide alarm. DIYing the installation of a CO detector can pose a risk to both your life and the lives of your family members.

How to respond when your CO alarm signals carbon monoxide

In case your carbon monoxide detector alarm sounds, don’t hesitate – evacuate your home or workplace right away. Head outside for some fresh air and dial 000 for assistance. Stay put until authorities give the all-clear. It’s crucial to have a professional inspect the premises, pinpoint the cause of the alarm and take care of any potential CO sources before returning indoors. Safety first, always!

Now, let’s take a look at what today’s blog is about – a question many present and future CO alarm users have and are confused about.

Do CO detectors have a shelf life? What you need to know

You might have assumed only food items come with expiration dates, but here’s a surprise: carbon monoxide detectors expire too. Why? Because these detectors contain sensors that gradually lose their sensitivity over time. Typically, carbon monoxide detectors last anywhere from five to ten years. Check for an expiration date on the back or a manufacturing date, so you can keep track and know when it’s time for a replacement. 

Now that it’s clear that CO alarms do have a shelf life, the next obvious question is: Should you replace just the battery or the whole unit when the time comes?

Battery swap or new unit: Which should you choose?

While many carbon monoxide alarms come with replaceable batteries, it’s crucial to understand that these alarms also have a finite lifespan. Simply swapping out the battery may not fix internal issues or sensor wear and tear. If your alarm is approaching the end of its recommended lifespan or showing signs of malfunction, it’s best to play it safe and replace the entire unit.

Know when to replace your carbon monoxide alarm

  1. The alarm has reached or exceeded its lifespan

Carbon monoxide alarms typically have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years. If yours has reached this point, it’s time for a replacement to ensure continued efficiency.

  1. You’re experiencing frequent false alarms

If your alarm frequently goes off without any apparent cause, it could indicate a malfunction and the need for a new alarm. Though occasional false alarms are normal because of low batteries or minor interference, consistent or random false alarms should not be overlooked.

  1. A malfunctioning alarm or expired battery

If you find your alarm beeping because of a low battery, yet changing the battery doesn’t stop the beeping, it might indicate a malfunction in the alarm. Additionally, some alarms have a battery lifespan of 1 to 5 years, after which it’s advisable to replace the battery.

  1. Beeping is inconsistent or intermittent

Carbon monoxide alarms are designed to emit a distinct pattern of beeps when they detect CO. If you hear irregular or intermittent beeping from your alarm, it may indicate a faulty sensor or other internal issues.

  1. Physical damage is evident

Visible damage like cracks or breakage compromises the integrity of the alarm and warrants a replacement.

  1. Certifications have expired

If the certifications on your alarm have expired, it may no longer meet safety standards and should be replaced.

💡Bell Electrical tip: Since there’s no Australian standard for CO alarms, we recommend opting for an alarm certified to EN50291 (the European standard) or UL2034 (the US standard).

  1. The technology is outdated

If your current carbon monoxide home alarm is outdated and doesn’t include features like digital displays, peak-level memory, or wireless interconnectivity, think about upgrading to a more advanced model. These newer models offer extra safety features, ensuring your peace of mind.

Let our skilled electricians light the way

CO detectors are crucial in shielding households from the unseen hazards of carbon monoxide.

Stay mindful of the expiration date on your carbon monoxide detector and familiarise yourself with how to test it. Swapping out expired CO detectors is a vital step in ensuring ongoing safety for your home.

Consistent checks, timely replacements, and grasping the mechanics of CO detectors ensure your family’s safety.
For skilled installation, maintenance, or replacement of CO alarms, trust our expert electricians at Bell Electrical. We prioritise safety and expertise, guaranteeing your home or business is shielded against the silent menace of carbon monoxide. Call us today at 0411 471 922.

Need Help?

Do you need to have your electrical systems done? Bell Electrical Contractors is happy to help. Call us on 0411471922 or email us at info@bellelectrical.com.au.