Get an Alarm that Works, Don't Chance It with Carbon Monoxide

Consumer Reports recently tested carbon monoxide home alarms, devices that could mean the difference between life and death. They found some alarms warn you sooner than others.

Sandy Troisi will never forget the day her husband and 3-year-old son were rushed to the hospital. Carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that can't be seen or smelled, had seeped from a furnace in their apartment building.

Fire officials say people should be aware that carbon monoxide can come from any number of places. "Stoves, water heaters that are fed by oil or gas, boilers, their cars running in garages, barbecues, propane or charcoal," said fire official James Carney.

Consumer Reports evaluated 19 carbon monoxide alarms. Most cost between $30 and $50. Testers wanted to see how quickly each would respond.

The alarms were sealed under plastic for the test. Carbon monoxide gas was then pumped in. In one test, the concentration reached about 150 parts per million. In another test, about 400 parts per million.

"For a healthy adult, three hours of exposure at 150 parts per million will probably just cause a headache. But the same exposure at 400 parts per million, could cause brain damage or even death," said Consumer Reports' David Heim.

All the alarms tested gave sufficient warning, but Consumer Reports believes it's a good idea to look for one with a digital display so you see how high the level is.

"If you see a high level, like the 400 parts per million we used in our tests, you'd know to get out of the house right away," said Heim.

Testers top-rated a $50 carbon monoxide alarm with a clear digital display. It's the Digital Carbon Monoxide Alarm from Senco, model one. It does an excellent job of sensing carbon monoxide.

Another plus, it runs on batteries, so it keeps working even if your power goes out.

If you have a question, consumer problem, or product you would like Troubleshooter Julie Stewart to buy and try, please e-mail her at Please include your phone number in the e-mail.

Online Reporter: Julie Stewart

Online Author: Melissa Schantz