FAQ about Carbon Monoxide Detectors

These FAQ’s are intended as a resource for the awareness and prevention of Carbon Monoxide dangers for the residents of Adelaide and South Australia. 

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Commonly known as ‘the silent killer’ Carbon Monoxide (CO) is odourless, tasteless and colourless. Carbon Monoxide is a gas formed and given off during the burning of fuels such as as Natural Gas, firewood, LPG, petrol, oil and diesel. It is actually the incomplete burning of fuel. It is important to note that whilst the burning of fuels and the smoke can often be seen and smelt, it still contains the odourless, tasteless and colourless Carbon Monoxide.

What sort of appliances can give off Carbon Monoxide in my home?

Heaters such as natural gas, LPG, oil and wood burning are sources of Carbon Monoxide. Other sources are cars, petrol generators and tools such as lawn mowers, blower vacs and edge trimmers. In fact, anything that burns a fuel, is a source of Carbon Monoxide.

What is a Carbon Monoxide detector?

A Carbon Monoxide detector is visually similar to a smoke detector. When Carbon Monoxide is detected, the alarm sounds in the same way your smoke detector would.

How does a Carbon Monoxide detector work?

A Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector measures concentrations of CO in the air over a period of time using a CO sensor. If the concentration is very high and at an immediately dangerous level the alarm will sound very quickly. At lower concentrations of CO the alarm will sound but will occur after a delayed period.

Why is Carbon Monoxide dangerous?

Excessive exposure to Carbon Monoxide (CO) can be fatal. CO can also build up to dangerous levels over a period of time. It is the cause of numerous other health issues at lower doses such as permanent brain, heart and lung damage, nausea, vomiting, headaches and confusion.

How is Carbon Monoxide dangerous?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is breathed in when we breathe in air. It has an attraction to the red blood cells 200 times greater than the oxygen we require for life. CO quickly mixes with red blood cells and stops their ability to carry oxygen around the body.  This lack of oxygen can cause the cells and organs in our body to fail and die.

Who is most at risk of Carbon Monoxide?

Babies, young children, pregnant women, people with chronic heart disease and people with respiratory issues such as asthma.

When can Carbon Monoxide be a danger in the home?

Carbon Monoxide can be a danger in the home with appliances that have been incorrectly fitted or not maintained correctly. Appliances such as cook tops, ovens, hot water services and gas, wood or oil heaters. The flue on heaters can become obstructed, blocked or never fitted correctly.

What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

Carbon Monoxide poisoning is not always obvious. Low levels of exposure can appear as tension headaches or cold and flu like symptoms. These symptoms can gradually become worse over time. Symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Breathless
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of Consciousness

What does long term low level Carbon Monoxide exposure do?

Exposure to low levels of Carbon Monoxide can easily go undetected over a long period. This can lead to neurological problems such as concentrating and thinking. Emotional changes such as irritability, depression and irrational decision making can occur.

What does high levels of Carbon Monoxide exposure do?

High levels of Carbon Monoxide exposure can lead to rapid health decline and death.

Symptoms of exposure can include:

  • Vertigo
  • Intoxication
  • Loss of co-ordination due to brain and nervous system damage
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death
  • Parkinsonism

What has been the impact of Carbon Monoxide on health in Australia?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, during the 2019-2020 period, there were 298 hospitalisations due to accidental poisonings from gases such as exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide. The number of deaths reported on the AIHW site is from various gas sources so the exact number of deaths from Carbon Monoxide alone is unknown.  

What are signs of a Carbon Monoxide leak?

There are many signs that can indicate a Carbon Monoxide issue, and it is important to note that they may not seem obvious. Some examples of Carbon Monoxide issues are;

  • Black combustion marks on the front cover of a gas fire.
  • On ovens and stoves there can be yellow and brown combustion marks.
  • Gas appliances should have a blue flame rather than a yellow flame.
  • The gas flame on an appliance should be complete across the burner, no part of the burner should be missing a flame.
  • More condensation on the windows than usual.
  • Smoke build up in the room.
  • Pilot light blows out easily.
  • Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning that get better when you leave the house and then get worse on return.
  • Other people in the house suffering from Carbon Monoxide exposure symptoms.

Is CO2 the same as Carbon Monoxide?

No, this is a commonly misused chemical symbol for Carbon Monoxide. CO2 is the gas Carbon Dioxide found in carbonated drinks. Carbon Monoxide has the symbol CO. 

Where should Carbon Monoxide detectors be fitted?

Ideally Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors should be fitted to every room that contains a fuel burning appliance, remote rooms where occupants spend a lot of time and every bedroom. Budgets don’t always allow for this so luckily we are able to follow a recommendation of key points to consider when installing a CO detector;

  • If there is a fuel burning appliance in a room where someone sleeps, fit a CO detector.
  • A room with a flue less or open flued appliance should have a CO detector fitted.
  • Rooms where occupants spend the majority of their time such as a lounge room should have a CO detector fitted.
  • Open studio style apartments should have a CO detector fitted close to the sleeping area and away from the cooking appliances.
  • Carbon Monoxide detectors should be fitted as per the manufacturer recommendations for their product taking into account any building regulations that may apply.  

Are Carbon Monoxide detectors mandatory in South Australia?

There is currently no legislation requiring the installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors in new, existing or rental properties in Australia. Although this may be the case, it doesn’t prevent anyone from installing one and having an additional layer of safety in their home. In the USA and European countries the use of CO detectors is widespread, and some countries, such as England require them to be installed in all rental properties that have a solid fuel burning appliance such as a wood fire or wood burning stove.

What do I do if I suspect there is a leak or my Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector goes off?

In the event of the Carbon Monoxide detector sounding, someone showing signs of Carbon Monoxide exposure or you suspect there is a leak, follow these steps;

  • Open doors and windows to ventilate the home.
  • Switch off fuel burning appliances, but only if it is safe to do so.
  • Leave the house and seek fresh air outside.
  • Call 000 and ask for an ambulance and inform them there may be CO poisoning involved.
  • Call gas emergency line to inform them of possible CO leakage in the house.
  • Have the faulty appliance repaired or removed.

How do I make my home Carbon Monoxide safe?

Here are some simple tips for maintaining a safe Carbon Monoxide environment in your home;

  • Don’t use cooking appliances to heat the home.
  • Do not use appliances with an engine inside your home including generators.
  • Do not sleep in rooms with unflued heaters or fires.
  • Kitchens should have extractor fans or range hoods above cooking appliances.
  • Do not let cars idle in enclosed garages.
  • Have appliances services and checked by a gas fitter.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide detector on each floor of the house.

Should I have a Carbon Monoxide alarm?

Yes. Just like a smoke detector that warns you of fire or a safety switch that protects from electric shock, if there is a fuel being burnt in the home then a Carbon Monoxide alarm should be fitted.

Which Carbon Monoxide Detectors are best?

It is important to me to know the product I’m installing functions correctly, without hassle for the home owner, and is backed with warranty. I decided to put some time aside into testing and share with you the information. This is my evaluation.

We recently performed some tests and installations of Carbon Monoxide detectors and recommend the brand Brooks. Other brands we tested did not indicate any approval numbers, one was missing country of manufacture and another one of the cheaper brands had the sealed battery fail before fitting (we tried 2 of them!) Brooks are also a 100% Australian owned company, they specialize in home fire safety equipment, perform in house research and development and their Carbon Monoxide detectors carry EN approval and are CSIRO tested. Importantly they were also quick to respond to any inquiries whether by email or phone.

What does a Carbon Monoxide detector cost?

Carbon Monoxide detectors in Australia range from $30-$75 for a basic battery powered alarm up to $182 for a mains powered, 10 year sealed lithium battery backup Carbon Monoxide alarm that can be interconnected with additional Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarms.

What does a Carbon Monoxide detector cost to have installed by an electrician?

Having a Carbon Monoxide detector installed by an electrician is very similar to installing a smoke detector. The cost is a little more, and this is because the Carbon Monoxide alarm is more expensive than a widely used and available smoke alarm.