My Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Beeping!

Carbon monoxide detectors and alarms are designed to alert you to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide.  They do this by making noise and flashing lights.  However, they also make noise and flash lights under other conditions.  The noise that they make has been described as beeping, chirping, and even squeaking.  Most detectors will make two sounds: a “beep” and a much shorter “chirp”.  The beeping noise is used to alert you to unsafe CO levels.  It is usually in the form of 4 beeps, a pause, then 4 more beeps.  This pattern is repeated continuously until the CO level drops or until you press the “mute” button.  If you ever hear this sound coming from your CO detector, DO NOT IGNORE IT!  Take action immediately!

On the other hand, the chirping sound is used to report some problem with the detector.  It is not as critical as the beeping alarm, but it should be addressed.  The chirping is telling you that the detector may not be functioning or may fail soon. It may be reporting a low battery, an internal error, a unit malfunction, or the end of the internal sensors useful life.  You need to take action to maintain your protection from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Change the battery or replace the device, but keep your carbon monoxide detector functioning.

While most CO detectors will sound the alarm for high CO the same (by UL/CSA requirements), there isn’t as much uniformity when it comes to the chirping sounds.  Non-UL-listed detectors, including all of the low level detectors we feature, each alarm in their own unique way.  Check the owner’s manual that came with your detector to interpret the chirping noises.  A digital display is extremely helpful, because it provides additional visual information.

OK, so here’s the situation: your carbon monoxide detector is beeping, so you have an elevated CO level..  What should you do?  Well, you need to take action, and the sooner the better. You need to vacate the space being affected (if you can) and call someone to help you identify and fix the problem causing the high CO level. The problem is, who do you call? The answer to this depends on the situation you are in when your detector alerts you to a problem. Let’s consider some of these situations.


I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping in My Home

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This is by far the most likely place you will encounter a carbon monoxide alarm. To be prepared for this possibility, you should do a little research when you first install your CO detector. You need to find out who in your area can help you track down a carbon monoxide problem. Often, the fire department is equipped and ready to help you, but we strongly recommend you call them (in a non-emergency way) and ask them if it would be appropriate for you to call if you have an elevated CO level. Another possibility would be BPI-certified Building Analysts and other energy auditors, as they are trained in tracking down CO problems. Other possibilities might include home inspectors, HVAC contractors, or plumbing contractors, but many of these don’t have the equipment or knowledge to help you, but they might.

In any case, make some phone calls and establish a relationship with your future responder. Tell them about your combustion appliances and your CO detection equipment plus any other potential sources of CO that you can think of, indoors or out. Ask them for recommendations about actions to take if your detector alerts you to a problem. Finally, write down what they say, post it where you can find it, and put their phone number into your portable phone.

If your residential CO detector alerts you to a problem, you’ll be prepared. Open the doors and windows, get all of the occupants outside into clean air, and call your responder on your portable phone from outside of your residence. If the source of the problem is inside the residence, stop using whatever appliance caused the problem until it can be repaired. If the source of the CO is outside your residence, you may have to find temporary housing until the problem can be resolved.

I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping in My Car While Driving

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If you are driving a vehicle and your CO detector is indicating an elevated level of CO, you should open the windows and ventilate the vehicle. Usually, this will reduce the CO level sufficiently for you to drive the vehicle to a repair shop for repair. If the CO level does not drop enough, the safest thing to do would be to park the vehicle and have it towed to a repair shop. Carbon monoxide problems in motor vehicles are usually the result of some problem with the exhaust system.


I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping in My RV or Boat

(For Carbon Monoxide Detectors for your RV or boat go here.)

The obvious culprit here is the engine or generator, but it may not be. Ventilate the space you’re in or get into open air if you can. Shut down the engine or generator immediately and continue to ventilate. Watch the CO level, and if goes down to an acceptable level, then you can conclude the problem was the engine or generator. Do not use it again until you have corrected whatever caused the problem. If the CO level did not drop, the source of the problem was elsewhere, so see if you can find out what it was. It is very possible that the source of the CO was outside your boat or RV, so check carefully. If you are unable to determine the source of the problem, you may want to try contacting one of the experts described above under Home to help you identify the problem. Sometimes, boats and RVs like to congregate in tight formations, and CO problems happen when you’re breathing the other fella’s exhaust.


I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping in My Airplane

(For Carbon Monoxide Detectors for your airplane go here.)

Encountering a CO problem while flying a plane is a very serious matter, since you can’t just run out of danger. These situations are usually the result of exhaust gas leaks into the cabin heat system, and since the source is continuous, the CO level will continue to rise. The first thing to do here is to turn off the cabin heat. Next, if possible, ventilate the cockpit. Finally, find the nearest airport and land your airplane. Continuing to fly is an unwise decision.


I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping Away from Home

(For Carbon Monoxide Detectors to use while traveling go here.)

If you are alerted to an elevated CO level while you are in a public or private place away from your home, you should notify whoever is in charge that a problem exists. You should encourage the evacuation of the place, and certainly get out yourself. If the person you notify does not know what to do, tell them to call the fire department.