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Interesting article

from the Columbus Dispatch. Note the point about test buttons.



Is your home gas detector doing its job?

Saturday, March 13, 2010 2:51 AM




The carbon-monoxide detector in your hallway might be doing little more than emitting a pleasant glow, according to a new Ohio University study.


Tim Ryan, an associate professor at the college, found that more than half of the detectors he tested from Athens homes failed to work properly even though they were receiving electricity.


"Homeowners can no longer assume if they see a green light or red light that the unit is working," said Ryan, who teaches in the School of Public Health Sciences and Professions. "People purchase carbon-monoxide detectors, plug them into the wall and forget about them.”


The study, which is ongoing, reinforces what emergency experts and manufacturers have long said: Carbon-monoxide alarms should be replaced regularly.


Of the 28 detectors Ryan tested, 15 were defective: Six didn't work at all, four failed to go off at the lowest level and five went off too early.


Ryan said he didn't know the exact age of the detectors he sampled but that the older units seemed more likely to fail.


He noted, however, that one of the new units bought to replace one in his test also failed to go off at the lowest level.


Manufacturers such as Kidde and First Alert recommend replacing carbon-monoxide detectors every five to seven years.


"Alarm technology can change - that's one reason why it's important to replace it," said Heather Caldwell, a spokeswoman for Kidde, the nation's largest maker of such alarms.


In addition, Caldwell said, calibration on the alarms can slip over time.


The test buttons on alarms measure only whether the unit is receiving electricity and functioning mechanically. They do not test whether they are accurately measuring carbon-monoxide levels, Caldwell said.


Lt. Travis Dudley of the Plain Township Fire Department said he didn't know how many detectors fail to go off when they should but said the alarms commonly go off when there's no problem.


"I know there are a lot that give us false alarms," Dudley said. "I guess we'd rather have it that way than the other way, though."


Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas released when fuels such as natural gas or propane fail to burn completely. Carbon monoxide in the home (and not from a vehicle) leads to an estimated 170 U.S. deaths a year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.


A survey by the Home Safety Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, found that 59 percent of American households don't have carbon-monoxide detectors. A similar survey by First Alert found that 25 percent didn't have detectors and that 23 percent of detectors had never been checked.


Ryan said he plans to study 50 alarms before seeking grant money to enlarge the sample, allowing him to draw conclusions about age of alarms, brands, types and other factors.


"If a person has a detector and wonders about it," he said, "my best advice is to replace it."




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