It’s colorless, odorless, can make you sick or kill you — and it could be inside your RV right now. We’re talking about carbon monoxide (CO), the potentially deadly gas produced by several RV systems and appliances. If you have an RV carbon monoxide detector that’s beeping, you may be concerned.
Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know in this situation.
My RV Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Beeping…Now What?
If your RV carbon monoxide detector is beeping, your first concern shouldn’t be making it stop. It should be addressing whatever issue is causing the beeping in the first place. Even in a best-case scenario, your detector is having problems that might prevent it from detecting hazards. In the worst case, your RV may already contain dangerous carbon monoxide gas.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas made up of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels, such as gasoline, natural gas, oil, and wood. When inhaled, CO reduces the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, leading to oxygen deprivation in the body’s tissues and organs. This is why having an RV carbon monoxide detector is so essential.
How Does an RV Carbon Monoxide Detector Work?
These crucial little devices are actually relatively simple from a mechanical perspective. The primary sensor can work in one of three ways: biomimetics, metal oxide semiconductors, or electrochemical sensors.
Biomimetics uses a gel that changes color as it absorbs carbon monoxide. The detector monitors this color and alerts if the carbon monoxide hits a certain threshold. Metal oxide semiconductors, on the other hand, take advantage of CO’s tendency to lower electrical resistance in circuits. If enough carbon monoxide is present to change the functioning of a circuit, your alarm goes off.
Electrochemical systems are the least common. They work using electrodes immersed in a chemical solution. These can often instantly reveal the presence of carbon monoxide and are primarily found in professional settings.
Pro Tip: Is the beeping in your rig driving you crazy? These 10 Common Beeps and Alarms Your RV Makes may be the source of your madness.
Why Does My RV Carbon Monoxide Detector Keep Beeping?
A few common issues are responsible for the vast majority of carbon monoxide detector warnings. Let’s look at the obvious and not so obvious reasons your CO detector keeps chirping at you.
The worst and most serious reason why your RV carbon monoxide detector is beeping is CO gas. If that’s the case, you should get yourself, any fellow campers, and any pets out of the RV as soon as possible. This alert is a good thing in some ways. Your detector is working as intended and saving you from a potentially deadly situation.
After you vacate the RV, shut off the propane and make sure nothing is burning. Generator fumes that have blown back into the RV are a common culprit for setting off CO detectors too. If your generator is running when the detector goes off, shut it off immediately and get outside.
If your RV systems are functioning correctly, the most likely culprit for beeping is a low battery. Since your RV may not always have a continuous power supply, your detector relies on batteries. But they don’t last forever. Your specific detector will usually indicate how to tell if the batteries are low. If they are, you should replace them as soon as possible.
RV carbon monoxide detectors aren’t perfect. Manufacturers take steps to ensure that if the system is malfunctioning, you’ll know. Consult your device’s manufacturer for potential ways to troubleshoot or reset your detector. These are somewhat complex devices, so it’s essential to pay attention to the specific ways to resolve your malfunction and ensure your device is working once again.
Eventually, you’ll need to replace your carbon monoxide detector. Again, consulting any documentation from the manufacturer will help. Generally, a CO detector lasts about seven years. Many will start to beep or chirp occasionally when their life is at its end. This is a surefire way to get you to replace it.
We personally have experienced multiple CO detectors start to beep due to the end of life.
A variety of other issues could also cause errors. Whether it’s an issue with placement or any number of other things, your detector will make sure you know. If there’s an error, address it as soon as possible.
How Does Carbon Monoxide Get Into an RV?
Unfortunately, many different RV systems and other everyday items could create carbon monoxide issues. Some of the most common are built-in generators with improper ventilation and portable ones set too close to an open window.
Pro Tip: Thinking about buying an RV with an onboard generator or installing one yourself? Find out Onboard RV Generator vs. Portable: Which Is Better?
Additionally, many rigs have heating and cooking systems that use propane gas. Gas-powered water heaters can also be a carbon monoxide risk if damaged or not properly maintained. Even smaller, portable camp stoves can produce enough CO to cause health risks. Problems with any one of these systems or appliances could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide gas is invisible and odorless. Without a functioning detector, you may not know about an issue until symptoms begin. These include headache, dizziness, weakness, an upset stomach, chest pain, or confusion. In extreme cases, victims can lose consciousness and eventually die. While all of these symptoms could also describe other conditions, don’t take a chance if it might be CO gas.
How Do I Prevent Carbon Monoxide in My RV?
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious issue. But there’s no need to be afraid if you take a few simple, common-sense precautions.
Get and Maintain an RV Carbon Monoxide Detector
It should be obvious by now, but an RV carbon monoxide detector can be a true friend for all RVers. These small, affordable devices are hard at work 24/7, ensuring you and your fellow campers are safe. And they require very little maintenance or upkeep.
While any detector will work, getting one with a readout can be helpful to determine why they are beeping. They read out in PPM or parts per million. This feature is very helpful to determine if your stove or water heater leaks any CO into your living space.
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Pro Tip: Some RV carbon monoxide detectors also detect propane leaks. Learn how to Avoid Disaster With an RV Propane Detector.
Do Not Use Portable Camping Stoves or Grills in Your RV
Portable camping stoves or grills can be convenient but don’t use them indoors or in poorly ventilated areas. Even small amounts of residual carbon monoxide gas can build up over time. Always use any grills outside your rig. Set up in a location and manner that allows for adequate ventilation.
Properly Ventilate When Using Gas
When functioning properly, your RV’s gas systems shouldn’t pose any significant CO risk. Still, when using gas inside your rig, make sure you’ve got good ventilation. Appliances like generators, water heaters, or furnaces should have dedicated venting systems. However, cracking a window or opening a door while cooking can provide additional protection.
Don’t Ignore Your RV Carbon Monoxide Detector
If your RV carbon monoxide detector is beeping, don’t ignore it. No matter what it’s trying to tell you, it’s important and could even be a matter of life and death. Whether it’s a problem as simple as replacing batteries or as dangerous as a major CO gas leak, you’ll rest easier at night knowing your trusty detector is watching your back.
When was the last time you checked the carbon monoxide detectors in your RV? Drop a comment below.
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