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November 2006
CO Detectors Help Save Lives: A Follow-Up

Detectors Should be Changed Every Five Years

In our September issue of The Walton EMC Gasette, we ran an article about the importance of having carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. However, a key message was omitted: CO detectors have a typical lifespan of five years. Dawn Olivares, a Walton EMC Natural Gas customer, learned about this lifespan first hand.

One November evening in 2005, Olivares sat in her Lilburn home with her children, then 16-year-old Elizabeth, and 18-year-old Christopher. She was sitting down to pay bills, as she had done many times before. However, this time was different. As she tried to spell out the word “hundred” on a check, she recalls, she could not write the word.

She looked to the floor where Elizabeth was napping, something not that uncommon for a teenager, says Olivares. But when she tried to wake her, says Olivares, “she just kind of raised her head up and stared at me.”

Olivares thought the incident was strange, but wrote it off as they all went to bed.

The next morning, the children got up and went to school. Olivares, the owner of an advertising agency, sat in front of her computer to work. Before she knew it, two hours had passed, and she was still staring at her computer. Thinking this was unusual, she decided to look up the symptoms of CO poisoning online—something, she thought, that could be caused by her 28-year-old furnace. She noticed that they had a few of the symptoms—headaches, sleepiness and a little dizziness, but discounted it, knowing that they had CO detectors in the home.

Still concerned about the way she was feeling, Olivares made a series of phone calls, eventually contacting her home warranty company. She explained the situation and the representative told her to immediately turn off the furnace and open the windows. When a company representative arrived at her home soon after the phone call, he detected CO buildup. Olivares changed the furnace as soon as she could.

Even after the furnace was changed, Olivares says, she kept thinking, “Why didn't the CO detectors go off?'” When she called the manufacturer of the CO detectors, she learned an important piece of information. Even though her CO detectors were properly placed, they had a lifespan of only five years.

“One of my CO detectors was five years and 11 months,” she says, “and it did not go off.” The other was just over six years old.

Had the detectors only been changed at or before five years, this could have been prevented. “[The lifespan] is not common knowledge,” says Olivares. That is why she tries to use her story to inform others and hopefully help prevent potentially worse situations. “We were lucky,” she says. “Our situation could have been a lot worse.”

CO detectors should never be substituted for using equipment safely—which includes having heating and cooking appliances inspected yearly by a trained professional. Olivares had skipped a yearly maintenance on her furnace—a maintenance which could also have prevented the problem.

FYI: Smoke detectors have a lifespan, too, which is generally eight to ten years. Check the manufacturer's information to determine the lifespan of your smoke detector and CO detector.

Did You Know?

  • Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness and weakness, nausea and vomiting, stinging eyes, sleepiness and heart flutters. However, symptoms are rare. Therefore, don't count on symptoms to know that there is CO present in your home.
  • If you suspect CO buildup in your home, go outside and call 911.
  • When purchasing a CO detector, always look at the manufacturing date on the back (you never know how long it has been on the store shelf) and never buy one from a yard sale.
  • What to do now: Check the back of all of your CO detectors for the manufacturing date. If it is more than five years old, get a new one. If you do not have CO detectors in your home or business, get one for every floor.