Check your detectors

Prevent a tragedy with home alarm and detector know-how

Home is more than just walls and pipes and ducts — and even more than all your prized possessions inside it. It’s the people you love.

That’s why it’s important to go the extra mile when it comes to home safety. And not just fire safety. From smoke alarms to radon and carbon monoxide detectors, here’s what you need to know to keep the best things in your life protected.

Carbon monoxide (CO) and radon

You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. But it can kill you. Knowing the facts about carbon monoxide and radon — two odorless, colorless gases — can save you and your family from tragedy.

Carbon monoxide facts

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of most fuels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires each year. Another 20,000 visit the emergency room for carbon monoxide exposure.

The CDC recommends the following to prevent CO poisoning:

  • Detect it. A battery-operated or battery backup CO detector in your home should be placed near your sleeping area so it will wake you if a problem arises. A digital readout CO detector is best because it will tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home.
  • Replace it. If it’s older than five years, get a new one.
  • Check it. Your heating and water systems, as well as any gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances in your home, should be serviced by a quality technician every year. The CDC recommends having your chimney inspected and cleaned once a year and to make sure all gas appliances are properly vented.
  • Be mindful. Never patch a vent pipe, use a gas range or oven for heating, burn charcoal indoors, use portable gas camp stoves indoors, or use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage fewer than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
  • Know the symptoms. Common signs of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. In other words, it may feel like the flu. Breathing in copious amounts of CO can make you pass out or even kill you. Everyone is at risk, but infants, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable.

Keep in mind that CO poisoning can happen in any closed space, including your vehicle and garage. It’s a good idea to have a mechanic give your exhaust system a once-over every year, because even a small leak can lead to CO build up inside of the vehicle. Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house, even if the garage door is open. If you have a detached garage, make sure the door is open when you’re running your vehicle.

Radon facts

Radon is an odorless, invisible radioactive gas that often goes undetected in a home. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and leads the pack among non-smokers — it’s single-handedly responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancers deaths every year.

Although radon is in the air we breathe — both indoors and outdoors — you can avoid overexposure with the following recommendations from the EPA:.

  • Invest in a kit. You can check radon levels in your home with a do-it-yourself kit, available at most hardware or home supply stores. There are short-term and long-term kits; the long-term kit is the most accurate. The EPA recommends testing even “radon-resistant” homes below the third floor over a three-month period.
  • Fix it. Hire a qualified radon mitigation contractor to fix your home’s radon issue. Depending on your home’s radon levels, foundation, and your budget, you and your contractor can select an appropriate radon reduction solution.
  • Know what to do next. The American Cancer Society says that although there are no widely available medical tests to measure whether you’ve been exposed to radon, and radon exposure is symptomless, you should still be aware of the risks of radon poisoning. If you smoke and have been exposed to high levels of radon, your risk for lung cancer rises exponentially.

Smoke alarms

National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) data show that on average, 2,620 people died in home fires in the years 2013-2017 (the most recent data available). An average of 11,000 were injured each year in residential fires over the same time period

Most of us have had a kitchen flub that set off the piercing wail of a smoke alarm. It might be annoying, but it could help save a life. Nearly three out of five home fire deaths resulted from fires at properties with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms, according to the NFPA.

Testing your smoke alarms and changing the batteries regularly is just a start. The NFPA recommends the following:

  • Proper smoke alarm installation matters. The NFPA recommends installing smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. They should be installed at least 10 feet from cooking appliances and high on walls and ceilings. Remember: smoke rises. The NFPA also advises interconnecting your smoke alarms so that if one sounds, they all sound.  
  • Take the smoke alarm test. Don’t wait until your alarm starts chirping in the middle of the night to let you know that its battery is low. Test your alarms once a month by pressing the test button. The NFPA recommends smoke alarms with non-replaceable, 10-year batteries, so if the alarm chirps, the entire alarm should be replaced. If your smoke alarms have another type of battery, you should replace it at least once a year.
  • Don’t disable your defense. A chirping alarm can be incredibly irritating, but don’t take a hammer to it or disengage it. Have all your alarms professionally installed and keep the manufacturer’s instructions on hand for reference.


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Updated April 2020

The information included was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any training, materials, suggestions or information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice or other advice, but should be confirmed with alternative sources.