A Comprehensive Guide On Carbon Monoxide & Carbon Monoxide Alarms


In February 2024, a carbon monoxide leak at an Adelaide ice rink became a stark reminder of the dangers posed by the “silent killer”, carbon monoxide (CO). At least 42 individuals required treatment following exposure to the hazardous gas. That is only the most recent example; from 2021 to 2022, the Australian Government notes that around 230 people have been hospitalised due to accidental CO poisoning.

CO poisoning can happen almost anywhere, including inside your own home. It is important to take precautions against this silent killer, which is why this guide will thoroughly explain what carbon monoxide is, its symptoms, the effects of CO poisoning, and vital safety measures such as installing a carbon monoxide alarm in Australia.

Understanding Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is predominantly produced from the fumes of fuels that are burned for various commercial and residential applications. It is dangerous because it can replace oxygen in the bloodstream, which can lead to potentially fatal poisoning from prolonged exposure.

What makes CO truly treacherous, however, is that it is odourless and colourless. It cannot be seen, smelled, tasted, or felt, which means that in an indoor environment that lacks proper ventilation and detection mechanisms, CO can accumulate to hazardous levels without anyone knowing until it is too late.

Common sources of CO include:

  • Engine-Driven Tools (42%): Equipment or vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, such as trucks, can emit significant CO.
  • Heating Systems (34%): Improperly ventilated or malfunctioning fireplaces and furnaces can become sources of CO.
  • Consumer Products (19%): If used or installed incorrectly, items like gas stoves or grills can emit CO.
  • Multiple Products (7%): Various household items such as lanterns, if defective, can contribute to CO build-up.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Risks and Symptoms

Everyone, from infants to elders, can get CO poisoning. Those with respiratory conditions, heart disease or anaemia have been noted to be particularly vulnerable.

It can be challenging to identify CO poisoning because its insidious nature means that individuals, particularly those asleep or intoxicated, may be overwhelmed without ever realising they are in danger.

Even if people do show symptoms, they may manifest in the form of headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, confusion, chest pain and impaired vision – many of which are also all characteristic of the flu and other illnesses.

Safeguarding Against CO Poisoning: Prevention and Protection

Thankfully, with vigilance and proper precautions, CO poisoning is preventable in most cases. Key measures that you can take include regularly maintaining fuel-burning appliances, ensuring adequate ventilation and, critically, installing carbon monoxide alarms.

In Your Home

  • Conduct Annual Maintenance: Ensure that professionals regularly check and maintain heating systems and any appliances burning coal, gas, or oil.
  • Ensure Proper Ventilation: All gas appliances should have adequate ventilation, which is crucial to prevent CO build-up inside your home.
  • Clear Vents and Flues: Never obstruct vents or flues. Blocked vents can lead to CO accumulation indoors.
  • Place Generators Safely: If using a generator indoors, place it at least 6 metres away from windows, doors, and vents to prevent CO from entering the living spaces.
  • Conduct Chimney Checks: If your home features a chimney, have it cleaned and inspected annually to ensure it’s clear of obstructions.
  • Select Approved Appliances: Only use gas appliances that meet Australian standards, ensuring they’re installed and maintained according to manufacturer guidelines.
  • Avoid Unsafe Heating: Do not heat your home with a gas stove as it can produce excessive CO. Similarly, do not burn charcoal indoors.

In Your Vehicle

  • Check Exhaust Systems: Have your vehicle’s exhaust system inspected annually. A leaky exhaust system can lead to CO build-up inside a parked car, even with open windows.
  • Avoid Running Engines in Enclosed Spaces: Never run your vehicle’s engine in a closed garage. If warming the car is necessary, move it outside first to avoid CO accumulation.
  • Circulate with a Tailgate: If driving a vehicle with a tailgate, open the vehicle windows, vents and tailgate regularly to keep air circulating.

When Outdoor Camping

  • Practice Cooking Safety: Never use charcoal grills, hibachis, or camping stoves inside tents or campers. Not only does this practice reduce the risk of CO poisoning, but it also mitigates the risk of fires.

The Critical Role of Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Despite taking all the precautions listed above, the only guaranteed way to detect the presence of CO in your home is through a carbon monoxide detector.

A CO alarm is a critical safety device that acts as an early warning system for excessive CO levels. It measures the concentration of CO in the area and sounds an alarm when levels become dangerously high, allowing you to take immediate action to prevent poisoning.

CO alarms come in various forms, including battery-operated, plug-in, and hardwired models, and are essential for the safety of homes and commercial spaces alike.

Selecting the Right CO Alarm

Consider the following when choosing a CO alarm:

  • Compliance with Local Regulations: Check the specific requirements in your state regarding the types of CO alarms and where to place them, as regulations can vary. In general, Energy Safe Victoria suggests choosing a CO alarm certified to EN50291 or UL2034.
  • Power Source Options: Decide between hardwired, battery-operated, or plug-in CO detectors based on your needs and the layout of your home.
  • Consultation with Specialists: If uncertain, seek advice from a home alarm specialist to find the most suitable CO alarm for your situation.

Installing CO Alarms

For comprehensive coverage, install a CO alarm near each sleeping area in your home. Additionally, placing alarms on every level and near fuel-burning appliances maximises your protection. The ideal setup includes a mix of locations to ensure no area within your home is left uncovered.

Responding to an Alarm

Should your CO alarm sound, act immediately:

  1. Ventilate your home by opening doors and windows.
  2. Turn off all potential CO sources and evacuate the premises.
  3. If the alarm persists, seek professional assistance to investigate and remedy the cause.
  4. Regardless of symptoms, consult a healthcare provider to rule out CO poisoning.

For further information on what to do when your CO alarm sounds, do read our blog post on why your carbon monoxide detector might be beeping.

Maintenance and Testing

CO alarms can last for up to 10 years. Regular testing and timely replacement ensure your alarms remain functional and effective.

Familiarise yourself with your CO alarm’s testing procedure – usually just pressing the test button down until it sounds – and perform checks at least monthly if possible. We also recommend looking to replace older alarms around the five to seven-year mark.

Stay Vigilant, Stay Safe

Understanding the risks associated with carbon monoxide and taking proactive steps to mitigate these dangers are vital to ensuring the safety and well-being of your family. With the proper knowledge, precautions, and tools, you can protect against the silent threat of CO poisoning.

Always prioritise installing carbon monoxide alarms as a critical step in safeguarding your home, and stay informed about the best practices for prevention and response.

Need a New, Reliable Carbon Monoxide Alarm?

Do you require a reliable and durable carbon monoxide alarm? PSA’s Lifesaver LIFCO9D Carbon Monoxide Alarm protects against CO poisoning by monitoring CO levels and ensuring you and your family are always safe from this “silent killer”. It can be installed on a wall or as a tabletop unit for added convenience and has a 10-year sensor life.

PSA also provides carbon monoxide detectors for wholesale distribution and many other home security system supplies. Contact us to speak to one of our experts for more information.