How Often Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Fail?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas that’s lethal at high levels and can go undetected until it’s too late. Low concentrations have a cumulative effect, triggering headaches, unconsciousness, and even death, assuming you’re exposed long enough. Fortunately, carbon monoxide detectors are precisely designed to address such concerns, protecting you from carbon monoxide poisoning.

How Often Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Fail?
A CO Detector Mounted On a Wall

However, homeowners have raised concerns regarding the effectiveness of carbon monoxide detectors. And this raises the question: how often do carbon monoxide detectors fail?

The frequency at which these home safety devices fail varies based on their quality, maintenance practices, environmental conditions, and more. Studies show that the average lifespan of an operational carbon monoxide detector is between 5 to 7 years. Over time, the detector’s sensors can wear out, partially impairing sensitivity or causing complete failure. When this inevitable time comes, the detector cannot detect the killer gas, and the outcomes of this occurring in your home is impossible to imagine.

Keep reading this guide as we address how to replace carbon monoxide detectors, what makes them fail, and more. Let’s begin!

How Do I Know My Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Faulty 

Although they are calibrated to offer reliable protection against carbon monoxide poisoning, carbon monoxide detectors can break down over time. Knowing the signs of an unreliable detector can protect you and your family from this potentially lethal gas. Check out these apparent signs of a malfunctioning detector:

  • Age: Carbon monoxide detectors have a limited lifespan of 5 to 7 years. If yours exceeds this timeframe, it won’t warn you of the presence of carbon monoxide in your surroundings. Please consult the manufacturer’s guidelines to know when your detector ends its helpful days. 
  • False Alarms: False alarm is a telltale sign of a defective carbon monoxide detector. If your detector frequently triggers alarms even after proper installation and removing possible sources of CO, it may hint at a malfunction. Sensor malfunctions, electrical problems, or disruption from nearby appliances can all trigger false alarms.
  • No Alarm Activation: Regularly test your carbon monoxide detector following the user manual. The detector may be faulty if it does not sound an alarm during a test. In this case, you must test the carbon monoxide detector with fresh batteries to eliminate battery-related issues. If it remains silent after replacing the batteries, contact your manufacturer or a certified technician to address the issue.
  • Error Messages: Some carbon monoxide detectors include error codes or messages to warn users of specific malfunctions or maintenance requirements. Check the user manual for accurate interpretation and address these messages.
  • Inconsistent Reading: Inconsistent readings on your CO detector can also hint at a sensor malfunction. If these readings on your CO detector fluctuate without any apparent sources of carbon monoxide nearby, contact a qualified electrician to inspect the unit.
  • Physical Damage: Examine your detector for signs of tampering, such as cracked casing or loose connections. Such issues can compromise your detector’s functionality. Take immediate measures if any damage is evident. 
  • Malfunctioning or Incompatible Detectors: Sometimes carbon monoxide detectors can have manufacturing defects or be incompatible with other gadgets. Staying updated on product recalls and confirming that your CO detector aligns with your home’s electrical system can deter false alarms.

If your carbon monoxide detector malfunctions due to the above signs, take the following measures to ensure maximum performance:

  • Replace Batteries: Install new batteries, as expired batteries can compromise your detector’s output.
  • Clean and Maintain: Insect infestation, dust, and debris can block the sensor’s field of view, causing false alarms. It is important to clean the CO detector per the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper airflow and high performance. 
  • Seek Professional Inspection: In case of a serious fault or the issues persist after the intervention, contact an electrician. They have the expertise to diagnose and fix complex issues.

What Makes Carbon Monoxide Fail?

Carbon monoxide detectors fail due to numerous factors, which we will unfold below. Knowing the logic behind this failure is essential for maintaining the effectiveness of your detector. Check below to gain a comprehensive understanding:

  • Sensor Degradation: Carbon monoxide detector sensors may degrade over time due to exposure to the elements. This deterioration causes reduced sensitivity, affecting the detector’s capacity to alert you to high carbon monoxide concentration. 
  • Expiration: Carbon monoxide detectors can only serve you for 5 to 7 years. Once a detector exceeds its designated expiration date, the internal components begin experiencing decreased performance, rendering it unreliable or ceasing to function altogether. It would be better to replace your detector with a new one upon reaching the end of its valuable days. This way, you can be confident that the unit is functioning optimally, saving you and those around you from the dangers of carbon monoxide.
  • Lack of Maintenance: Failure to conduct regular maintenance duties, like battery replacements or cleaning your CO detector, can promote detector failure. Insufficient battery power or dead batteries can compromise the detector’s functioning. At the same time, insect infestation, dust, and debris accumulation may obstruct the sensors, impairing their potential to detect the killer gas precisely. As the manufacturer recommends, it pays to practice timely battery replacements and periodic cleaning to ensure the detector remains in optimal working order.
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental conditions can impact the output of a carbon monoxide detector. High humidity levels, temperature, chemical exposure, or airborne contaminants can all affect the detector’s effectiveness. These elements can trigger false alarms or, in more severe cases, impede the detector from providing real-time carbon monoxide concentration in your immediate surroundings. You can avoid these issues by installing your detectors far from potential sources of interference, such as bathrooms.
  • Physical Damage: Various factors can compromise your carbon monoxide detector’s physical integrity. This includes accidental impacts, improper handling, or tampering. Such instances can cause cracked casings, loose connections, or damage to interior components, undermining the detector’s functionality. By being mindful of your detector’s fragility and keeping off actions that can harm it, you can help sustain its operational integrity and prolong its lifespan. Doing so allows the carbon monoxide detector to fulfill its primary role of detecting hazardous levels of the killer gas.
  • Interference from Nearby Devices: Some electrical appliances, like wireless routers or strong radio signals, can compromise the normal functioning of a carbon monoxide detector. This can affect the detector’s communication and ability to detect exact carbon monoxide levels. It would help to maintain a distance between such devices and your detectors to reduce the chances of interference.
  • Power Supply Issues: Some carbon monoxide detectors are integrated into a building’s electrical system or depend on backup batteries. Power supply issues, including wiring faults, electrical surges, or battery failures, can cause CO detector failure. Always check that the electrical connections are intact to avoid power-related failures. 
  • Incorrect Calibration: Carbon monoxide detectors need proper calibration to gauge carbon monoxide levels in the immediate environment precisely. If your detector is calibrated incorrectly or the calibration gets offset with time, it can cause inaccurate readings or an inability to detect carbon monoxide.

Understanding the causes of carbon monoxide detector failure can help you take the necessary steps to ensure optimal functioning. 

How to Choose a Carbon Monoxide Detector 

Choosing a reliable carbon monoxide detector is wise, considering these devices can save lives. Consider these factors when choosing a carbon monoxide detector that massages your interests: 

  • Power Source: A carbon monoxide detector’s power source determines its placement option and the convenience of installation. A hardwired CO detector uses the pre-existing electrical grid as its power source. However, if the electricity goes off, so does the CO detection system. (All hardwired models should have a battery backup in case electricity goes out). Hardwired detectors are the most demanding type of CO detector to install, particularly if your premises lack a hardwired connection.

Plug-in detectors draw power from standard electrical outlets. While this decreases installation flexibility, these devices include battery backups should the electricity go out. Battery-powered detectors, also called portable models, don’t need pre-existing wiring or outlets. You can install them anywhere in your home.

  • Digital Display: Digital displays serve a fairly important purpose. These devices will display the current room temperature and average or maximum levels of carbon monoxide and provide battery life status updates. With such display capabilities, you can make informed decisions about your safety before symptoms of a dull headache, nausea, and unconsciousness begin. 
  • Interconnectivity: Carbon monoxide detectors can be integrated with other alarm units in the home via Wi-Fi, radio frequency, or direct wiring. With homes rapidly embracing smart technologies, interconnect-capable detectors may be an added benefit if you’re comfortable connecting household systems. For instance, an interconnected carbon monoxide activation on one floor of your house will trigger other alarm units throughout the home, alerting you regardless of your whereabouts.
  • If the device is linked to a central monitoring station, alarm companies will quickly alert first responders and dispatch assistance, eliminating the need to make a call. You can count on this feature, especially at night when household members may not hear the alarm and when carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms go unnoticed.
  • Smart Features: Carbon monoxide detectors have joined the rank of smart appliances, such as refrigerators. They can interact with a smart-home system, base station, or smartphone app. You can program these devices to describe the area and type of unit being triggered and give real-time condition updates, like room temperature, to an app. 
  • Sensors and Sensitivity: A CO detector’s sensitivity should comply with Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) safety standards etc. These standards specify that a carbon monoxide detector should provide timely alerts depending on the current concentration of carbon monoxide. For example, if the CO levels approach 400 PPM, the unit should notify you within 15 minutes. For CO levels reaching 200 PPM, the detector should alert you within 35 minutes. 
  • Price: Compare prices from different brands and evaluate the features offered in relation to the cost of the detector. Check the warranty coverage the manufacturer provides to guarantee support in the event of a malfunction. This way, you can be confident that the manufacturer addresses any defects.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Although not essential, personal preferences for carbon monoxide detectors that blend with home decor are crucial to some homeowners. If you plan to install the device in common areas of your home, choose models with a color scheme matching your aesthetic preferences. This should help maintain a cohesive and appealing living space without sacrificing safety.
  • User-Friendly Interface: Choose CO detectors with a user-friendly interface that facilitates seamless operation and settings adjustments. Clear and intuitive controls ensure ease of use. With such a model, you can quickly perform essential functions, including testing the detector, adjusting settings as needed, and silencing alarms.

How Often Should I Replace My Carbon Monoxide Detector? 

Since carbon monoxide detectors run constantly, you should replace their batteries twice yearly. The replacement frequency for the detector varies depending on the manufacturer’s guidelines. Generally, most detectors lose their sensing abilities after 5 to 7 years. If this happens, replace the detector with a new model to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Some detectors malfunction before their expiration dates, demanding a replacement. 

Here are a few considerations for replacing your carbon monoxide detector:

  • History of malfunctions: If your detector has encountered malfunctions in the long run, it may imply that it’s unreliable. It would help to replace it even if the problem was resolved.
  • Changes in regulations: Be informed about regulation changes on carbon monoxide detectors. Regulatory standards are continuously evolving to sort out emerging safety concerns. You can ensure your unit adheres to the newest requirements by staying updated on these changes. It involves being informed of new certifications or testing protocols. 
  • Technology advancements: Carbon monoxide detector advancements can introduce new features, accuracy, and performance. Being updated on the newest detection developments can help you leverage these advancements.

By regularly replacing your carbon monoxide detector according to daily developments, you can be confident of its performance in the long run.

How to Replace Carbon Monoxide Detector 

A reliable set of carbon monoxide detectors should be your home’s first line of defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. These champions of home safety pick up on dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the immediate environment and warn you of its presence, giving you enough evacuation time. However, these devices can only work if installed appropriately (regarding the method and placement).

Here’s how to replace a carbon monoxide detector:

  • Familiarize yourself with the user manual: First, carefully navigate the user manual included in the package. Familiarize yourself with the placement guidelines, installation instructions, and other requirements the manufacturer recommends.
  • Prepare the new carbon monoxide detector: Check that your carbon monoxide detector is working appropriately. Examine the CO detector for damage signs and ensure all components are intact and operational. If the detector is battery-powered, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct battery type. Insert the batteries in their compartment based on the recommended polarity.

Position the mounting bracket on the desired spot for battery-powered models. Because carbon monoxide is lighter than air, it often rises, so the best location should be near the ceiling and far from fuel-burning appliances. It should be 15 feet away from humid areas and heating equipment. Also, ensure the unit is not obstructed by drapery, furniture, or other obstructions.

Next, unpack the device and confirm that the packaging integrates all mounting supplies. Battery-operated models have screws, anchors, or adhesive strips, while plug-in units only need to be plugged into an outlet. Gather the mounting hardware required for the installation, including anchors, screws, adhesive strips, and the rest. Having these supplies ready will enhance smooth installation.

Mark the locations for the mounting screws that will keep the bracket in place. Punch holes on the marked spots using a compatible drill bit with your anchor kit. Ensure the holes are straight and at the appropriate depth before proceeding.

Then, align the mounting bracket with the anchor and secure it with the screws. Use a screwdriver to tighten the screws rather than a drill to avoid over-tightening and damaging the bracket.

  • Power on the carbon monoxide detector: After setting up your new CO detector, restore power by attaching it to the electrical source or inserting the suitable batteries. Let the detector power on and complete the initialization process highlighted in the user manual. This process includes displaying LED lights, startup messages on the digital screen, or triggering audible beeps. Then, test the detector to ensure the optimal functioning of all components.

CO detectors are often outfitted with a dedicated button for testing. Long press this button to initiate the test. Check that the alarm sounds clear and that any extra features, like indicator lights are operational. If the detector doesn’t sound an alarm, use these troubleshooting tips:

  • For hard-wired models, check that the breaker is on or switch it off and assess your wiring. 
  • For battery-operated units, reinstall the battery correctly or try a different one. 
  • Ensure the CO detector sits properly: some models will only work if placed correctly. If it still doesn’t work despite your efforts, the issue lies with the detector, not your work. Contact the manufacturer to provide troubleshooting guidelines or initiate a replacement.
  • Maintain the new detector: Once your new CO detector is up and running, implement a regular maintenance routine as the manufacturer recommends. This involves replacing batteries twice a year and cleaning and vacuuming the detector to prevent dust and debris build-up.

Carbon monoxide detectors are characterized by their sensing technologies: metal oxide semiconductor, biomimetic, and electrochemical.

  • Electrochemical Carbon Monoxide Detectors: These units deploy electrochemical sensors. They rely on a chemical reaction that produces an electric current when subjected to any level of carbon monoxide gas. This current fluctuation activates the detector to raise the alarm. Electrochemical sensors are famous for their precision and sensitivity to low carbon monoxide levels.
  • Biomimetic Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Biomimetic sensors replicate the characteristics of certain enzymes to detect carbon monoxide gas. They utilize a gel-like material that experiences color changes when it interacts with carbon monoxide. These units retail at a reasonable price point and deliver optimal output.
  • Metal Oxide Semiconductor CO Detectors: These devices have a unique working mechanism. They function by detecting changes in electrical resistance when subjected to carbon monoxide. They are favored for their stability and extended lifespan, making them reliable for long-term use. The only downside is these devices are sensitive to other gasses, which can trigger false alarms if calibrated incorrectly.

Note: Equipment that uses fuel sources, like furnaces and water heaters, produces carbon monoxide as a byproduct. This byproduct will be expelled outside through vents or chimneys to ensure safety. The equipment poses a minimal threat under normal conditions. Still, the carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels in case of a malfunction. 

That’s where CO detectors come in handy because it’s hard for you to sense carbon monoxide until it’s too late. So where should you install these life-saving devices?

The general consensus is that CO detectors should be positioned on every house floor (in the case of multi-floor apartments), not forgetting the basement and garage. To ensure optimal operation, stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and troubleshooting.

Why Is My Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping? 

When your CO detector beeps, it hints at a potential issue demanding immediate attention. The beeping has different meanings depending on your CO detector model, but here is a general consensus:

  • Emergency: A pattern of four beeps accompanied by a brief pause signals an emergency. If you notice this beep pattern, it means there is a hazardous level of carbon monoxide, and you need to act promptly. Press the test button for 5 to 10 seconds to stop the sound. A light should keep flashing to imply that carbon monoxide levels are still high. You may need to press the test button multiple times to silence the alarm. If CO levels remain unsafe, the alarm may sound again after a while. 
  • Low Battery: The battery is low if you notice a beep every 30-60 seconds from your detector. Identify and disconnect the beeping detector from its mounting location to address this issue. Hardwired detectors are often mounted on a wired plate, which can be twisted anticlockwise to disconnect. After uninstalling the alarm, open the battery compartment and replace the batteries with new ones. Restart the CO detector and check for continued beeping. If the beeping persists, contact your manufacturer or certified technician to fix the detector. 
  • Power Issue: Random chirps suggest a possible power issue. Depending on your CO detector model, you’ll hear continuous beeping when the power goes out, the alarm is unplugged, or when there is a wiring problem. Call an expert for further evaluation if the unit continues beeping even after confirming that there is no wiring or power issue. Alternatively, try detaching the alarm and wait for 30 seconds before reconnecting. Wiping the air filter using a wet cloth will also suffice, but keep the unit dry.
  • Sensor Issue: Your carbon monoxide detector can only withstand 5 to 7 years of use. From there on, it will cease to function. The sensors lose sensitivity and can trigger false alarms frequently. As such, you’ll need to invest in a new detector to ensure you are safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Note: Never disregard an alarm; always prioritize your safety and those around you whenever the detector alerts you to dangerous concentrations of carbon monoxide in the house.


A fire safety plan is incomplete without carbon monoxide detectors, which detect this killer gas and alert you to its presence. Without a comprehensive system of these life-saving devices, your family can be in grave danger. However, like any technology, carbon monoxide detectors won’t last forever. This takes us back to our subject of discussion…

How Often Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Fail?

The frequency of carbon monoxide detector failure depends on various factors, key among them being environmental conditions, quality of the detector, sensor degradation, and designated lifespan (usually 5 to 7 years). With proper maintenance, your unit can withstand maximum abuse before it ceases to function.

As the manufacturer recommends, disregarding maintenance and cleaning practices translates to malfunctions and reduced lifespan. 

Knowing the causes of your carbon monoxide detector failure helps you to determine the appropriate remedy. Ensure you fix the issue immediately to avoid dire consequences. Equally important is to stay informed about detector advancements to ensure seamless performance. 

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