Help Me Hank: Testing carbon monoxide detectors

DETROIT – You can’t see it, smell it, or taste it -- but it can be deadly when you breathe it in.

More than 500 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year in the United States and we’ve seen plenty of cases here in Metro Detroit. 

The Canton Fire Department goes on more than 100 runs a year, mostly addressing concerns from residents, but a small percentage of those calls are serious carbon monoxide issues. 

Carbon monoxide detectors (WDIV)
Carbon monoxide detectors (WDIV)

This made their firehouse a perfect place to test CO detectors. 

It’s also Consumers Energy’s Carbon Monoxide Awareness week, so they were more than happy to help us. 

The detectors we tested:

  • The Code One Alarm - $20. 
  • BRK Smoke and CO Alarm - $30
  • Kidde Alarm with a 10-year maintenance free guarantee - $40. 
  • With a firefighter all suited up and a generator running in the corner of a room, we wanted to know how long it would take for each alarm to detect carbon monoxide. 

    The first test: heading in with the device the firefighters use when called onto a scene. Their device went off right away, before any alarm could. That’s normal. Their device even gives a specific number, measuring the levels of CO. 

    Next, we set up our alarms and waited. 


    • The Code One Alarm – 13 minutes  
    • BRK Smoke and CO Alarm – 17 minutes 
    • Kidde Alarm with a 10-year maintenance free guarantee – 19 minutes  

    We asked Deputy Chief Jamie Strassner if that’s a normal reaction time for the detectors. He explained that because we were in a small, but ventilated area, this time was normal. He said this would be similar to a home setup. 

    “It’s a buildup over a period of time.” He said, “When the alarm sounds, it’s time to call 911.”

    He says it’s important to be able to put two and two together. If you start experiencing nausea, headaches, and dizziness inside the home, but when you leave you feel fine…that means you should look for a leak.

    Help Me Hank tests the tests (WDIV)
    Help Me Hank tests the tests (WDIV)

    Consumers Energy makes it a point to educate people on carbon monoxide. 
    Check out safety tips straight from the company here. 

    Debra Dodd said, “The three biggest months that we see carbon monoxide are December, January and February. Which makes sense because that’s when you’re running your furnace the most and is the biggest producer of CO if it isn’t working properly.” 

    There’s a lot of ways CO poisoning can happen:

    • Malfunctioning or misused gasoline-burning appliances; furnace, water heater, non-electric kitchen range, stove used for heat, space heater, grill, etc. 
    • Portable generators; they should be used 25 feet away from your home. 
    • Tools and Equipment; lawn mowers, snowblowers, chain saws, and pressure-washers, etc. Never start or operate these devices in an enclosed space such as a garage.
    • Vehicles; running a car in your garage even if the door is open is not a good idea. 
    • Chimneys; Debra suggests that you take a look outside and look for leaves or animal nests that might block an opening. 

    It might sound obvious, but even if there’s a leak you don’t see -- having a detector is important, no matter how inexpensive -- as long as it works. 

    Deputy Chief Strassner says it’s important to understand the detector you have. Some are designed to alert at a different setting of CO in your home. If you pop off the cover, it will also give you the manufacturer’s recommended date as to when the detector is no longer useful. (Helpful hint: He says that if you read the sticker, it will also give you information as to why you might be hearing chirping from the detector. It could be as simple as replacing the batteries!) 

    In the end, having a detector in your home could save your life. And there’s no price you can put on your life and the lives of your family members. 

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