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Staying Alive - Carbon Monoxide Safety

An important aspect of an NRVIA Certified RV Inspection is checking for potential Life & Safety issues, one of which is the Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector. In my experience, this detector is almost always flagged as a Life/Safety issue in the vast majority of inspections for both new and preowned RVs. Two main issues are identified: Inoperative/out of date detectors, and improperly located detectors.

First, let's examine what Carbon Monoxide (CO) is and why it is important to be alerted to its presence.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. It is a byproduct of incomplete burning of carbon based materials. Sources in our RV's would be propane fired appliances such as the refrigerator, furnace, and water heater. The internal combustion engine in motorhomes and/or a generator are additional sources of CO gas.

What makes CO deadly is that it combines with the hemoglobin in our red blood cells and deprives our brains and other organs of oxygen which can result in death.

Mild exposure can result in flu-like systems such as nausea, fatigue, a slight headache, and vomiting. We had a cracked heat exchanger in the furnace of our bricks and sticks home in Atlanta that allowed carbon monoxide from the gas flame to be circulated throughout our ducted vents into the home. We experienced these mild symptoms every time the fan blower would circulate air on the auto setting which gave us a clue as to what the source was. A new heat exchanger corrected the problem.

Higher concentrations of CO can result in a medium exposure level causing severe headaches, confusion, drowsiness, and a rapid heart rate. Severe exposure levels will cause people to lose consciousness, and/or experience heart and lung failure. Both medium and severe exposure levels can result in death.

What makes CO so dangerous is that the RV is usually closed up for the night and its occupants have gone to sleep when the concentration levels build up. Without a properly located and functional CO alarm to alert the RV occupants to a problem many people simply never wake up.

Life/Safety Issue: Inoperative/Out of Date CO Detector

CO detectors come in a variety of styles: Stand alone CO Detector, Combination with Smoke Detector, and in Combination with Propane Detector.

Some are battery powered and others are hardwired to the RV 12vdc system.

Their manufacture date (born date) is almost always stamped on the back side of the detector housing.

Most CO Detectors must be replaced five years after their born date.


Out of date combination CO/Smoke detector

Inspection date: September 2022

Born Date: September 2015

Good Practice: Test your CO detector every time as part of your checklist for packing and preparing the RV for travel. This will assure you of its operational integrity.

Life/Safety Issue: Improperly Located CO Detector:

When it comes to whether you should place your CO alarm closer to the floor or ceiling, there are differing opinions. Conventional wisdom has always been to locate the CO detector at least 60 inches off the floor on a wall or on the ceiling of the bedroom area since CO is slightly lighter than air and its presence is usually associated with rising warm air currents.

Recent studies have shown that carbon monoxide doesn’t settle at the floor, float in the middle, or rise to the top; rather, it disperses at an equal concentration throughout the room. However, the study results I reviewed failed to determine where CO was first present before dispersing and how fast it dispersed in the enclosed space. It would be beneficial to detect the presence of CO as early as possible, therefore I continue subscribe to the conventional wisdom of locating the detector at least 60 inches off the floor or on the ceiling.

What about Combination CO and Propane detectors?

Propane is heavier than air and we have already established that CO is slightly lighter than air. So where to locate a combination CO/LP detector which is becoming more prevalent in newer RVs?

RV manufacturers are locating these CO/LP combination units at floor level giving deference to the characteristics of Propane gas. As your inspector, provided the born date is within its five year useful life, I will flag it as a Life/Safety issue with a recommendation to install a second, stand-alone CO detector 60 inches off the floor or on the ceiling of the bedroom area. It may be a 'belt and suspenders' approach but what price do you place on your life and the lives of your loved ones?

Stand Alone CO Detector with 10 year use and battery life

How to avoid Carbon Monoxide.

The saying goes that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' and it behooves us as RVers to take steps to prevent CO gas accumulation in the RV in the first place. Some measures we can take are:

  • Never operate a propane or other carbon based fueled heater indoors without leaving a window or vent cracked open

  • Never use the gas cooktop or oven as a heat source

  • Close all windows/vents on the side of the RV where the generator exhaust is located when the generator is running

  • Turn off the LP gas to the water heater at night

  • Keep windows/vents/doors closed on the side of a motorhome RV where the exhaust pipe is located when the engine is running.

  • Install dauber screens on furnace, water heater, and refrigerator exterior vents to prevent insect infestation interference with the combustion chambers.


I hope you have found the information in this blog useful to you.

If you are selling your RV and want to facilitate a quick sale it is good to have a recent Independent NRVIA Certified Inspection report on hand to share with prospective buyers.

If you are buying a new or preowned RV, be sure to hire an independent NRVIA Certified Inspector to give you the knowledge of the true condition of the RV before you buy. You can find an NRVIA Certified Inspector near you through the NRVIA web site locator.

Our primary objective at Sherlock RV Inspection Service, LLC is to serve you by making sure your RV is safe to occupy and all major systems and appliances are functioning as intended.

We are a mobile RV Inspection Service and will travel throughout the Southeast and beyond as needed. (subject to travel and per diem costs) Check out our web site to get to know us better and for the inspection details and sample reports for review.

Safe Travels!

Ron Francoeur

Sherlock RV Inspection Service, LLC

Office: 352 – 224 – 9477

Cell/Text: 678 – 360 - 6883

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