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Can My Carbon Monoxide Detector Go Off During a Power Outage?

No one likes to imagine a carbon monoxide leak happening in their home. However, it is an important topic for homeowners to consider. Carbon monoxide leaks can come from several different sources. These include, but are not limited to: improperly vented fireplaces, appliances that use natural gas, broilers, and fuel-burning lanterns. But what happens when the power goes out? Can a carbon monoxide detector go off during a power outage? Could something cause a false positive and make your carbon monoxide detector go off even when there is no need? 


Your Home Needs a Carbon Monoxide Detector

One of the most important things a home must have is a carbon monoxide detector. This helps protect a household by alerting anyone inside when dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are present. There should be at least one carbon monoxide detector on each level of a home and one in front of each bedroom. They often come conveniently paired with a fire detector, providing dual protection in a single detector. Nowadays you can even get carbon monoxide detectors that maintain power for up to ten years. They also alert you when the power source is low so you know when to replace it!


When in Doubt, Get Out

Carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. If you hear your carbon monoxide detector sounding an alarm, take it seriously and evacuate your home! Although it may be a hassle to get all people and animals out of the house, you must never take the chance that a carbon monoxide alarm is false. The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning as headaches, confusion, difficulty breathing, and loss of vision. Carbon monoxide poisoning can include loss of consciousness, permanent damage to your health, and even death, so always clear everyone out of your home first. Then make the to call your local emergency services. Carbon monoxide is invisible and has no smell, so do not simply assume that the danger is over. Do not re-enter the house until you are given an official all-clear. 

SEE ALSO: Carbon Monoxide in Your Home


Working When the Lights are Out

A carbon monoxide detector is either battery powered, hardwired into your home’s power, or can be plugged into an electrical socket. To assure the detector works during a power outage, choose one with a battery backup. If you hear your carbon monoxide detector go off during a power outage, here are a few possible reasons:


  • High Carbon Monoxide Levels – Your carbon monoxide alarm should have a battery backup so it can operate during power outages. People can accidentally create situations where carbon monoxide levels build inside a home by using poorly vented generators (never bring a generator inside!), grills, or by using lamps that run on kerosene or other fuels. You can learn to identify your carbon monoxide detector’s alarm signal by testing it every month, or as recommended by the manufacturer. 
  • The Unit Needs Replacement – It could be a strange coincidence that your detector starts giving off the occasional beep that let’s you know it is time to replace the battery or entire unit. The alert noise for a carbon monoxide detector’s service life is not as urgent as an actual “high levels” alert. However, it is just as important that you pay attention to it. Your household is vulnerable until the unit is replaced.
  • Power Failure Alert – Sometimes detectors enter “trouble mode,” alerting to the fact that there was a power interruption that might have stopped their function. If your home has carbon monoxide detectors that continually go off and you have had your home cleared of any issues with high carbon monoxide levels, your detector system may have a wiring issue or be in need of repair or replacement.
  • Dirt or Other Interference – The sensor on a carbon monoxide detector is, unsurprisingly, sensitive. Carbon monoxide detectors measure build-up of carbon monoxide in a house. The higher the level of carbon monoxide, the less time it requires to set off the alarm. This delicate detection process can suffer interference if there is dust, pollen, or other debris on the detector. It is important to make sure your carbon monoxide detector is clear of any dust or dirt, and to either replace or clean a detector if it is setting off false alarms.


Stay Alert

Carbon monoxide detectors are extremely good at their job of keeping you safe and sounding the alarm when necessary. Although a power outage might cause a false alarm for hardwired carbon monoxide detectors, they typically have a battery backup that should prevent that from occurring. When you hear your carbon monoxide detector go off during a power outage, investigate it. It is important to treat every alarm as if it were real, and evacuate your home until it can be cleared and deemed safe to re-enter. If you have a recurring issue with carbon monoxide alarms going off while no threat is present, you will need to call a local, licensed electrician or repair company to address the issue. 

It is also important to check that your home for any “weak spots” that elevate the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. The maintenance of any appliances that use natural gas, as well as cleaning and maintenance of any natural gas heaters by a local, licensed HVAC service provider, can keep your home safer and healthier.

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