We found expired LP, CO, and smoke detectors in our used camper and replaced them. Here’s how, and why it’s so important. This is no joke folks, carbon monoxide kills way too many RVers. … …
For the readers who think my harping on properly matching a truck and camper is getting tired, this article will be a welcome reprieve. Lucky for you, I’ve found another critical safety topic to harp on; checking and replacing your propane (LP), carbon monoxide (CO), and smoke detectors. But don’t worry, I’ll get back to pounding the proverbial electron table on payload matching soon enough.
When we took delivery of our project camper late last Summer, we made a list of everything we needed to do with the camper. At the top of the list was making sure the now eleven-year-old camper was safe. That meant inspecting the camper from stem to stern, replacing the expired propane cylinders and clogged propane regulator, and replacing the expired CO, LP, and smoke detectors.
To advise us on our new detectors, I contacted Jeff Wisniewski, President of MTI Industries. MTI Industries manufactures Safe-T-Alert brand CO, LP, and smoke alarms found in many modern truck campers. Jeff was very pleased that we were taking on this subject and offered his team’s technical assistance.
David Buddingh, MTI’s Marketing Director, followed-up with me and explained that our detectors were both expired and discontinued. To replace them, David recommended the Safe-T-Alert model 65-541-WT CO alarm, $89.95, Safe-T-Alert model 40-442-P-WT LP gas alarm, $87.95, and the Safe-T-Alert model SA-775 smoke alarm, $18.95.
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Here’s what those products look like:
Above: Safe-T-Alert model 65-541-WT CO alarm, $89.95
Above: Safe-T-Alert model 40-442-P-WT LP gas alarm, $87.95
Above: Safe-T-Alert model SA-775 smoke alarm, $18.95
David also let us know that old LP alarms can be replaced with a combination LP Gas and CO alarm that detects both gases simultaneously.
Above: Dual alarms detect both Carbon Monoxide and LP gas in a single alarm. Many RVs were not required to have an CO alarm until January of 2005. LP gas detectors were required starting October of 1996. If your camper was built before 2005, it may not have a CO alarm. This dual alarm fits the cutouts of older LP alarms, and provides both CO and LP detection.
As timing would have it, the detectors arrived shortly before we set out for Colorado in early October. Once again we asked Bill Ward, President of Hallmark RV, for his advice and assistance in the installation. After more than four decades in the RV manufacturing business, this is the kind of job Bill could do half asleep, blindfolded, with one arm tied behind his back, while being tickled with ostrich feathers. Unfortunately, we were unable to test this hypotheses as there were no ostrich feathers on hand. Next time we’ll be better prepared.
The Surprising Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
During my research for this article, I was appalled to discover multiple recent news stories about RVers who died in their RVs from carbon monoxide poisoning. While carbon monoxide poisoning in RVs is very rare, it definitely happens.
What I found the most disturbing is how it happens. In multiple news reports, it’s the generator or engine running in the RV next to the victims that causes the life-threatening problem.
Here’s the scenario: A generator or engine is left running over night and the resulting carbon monoxide gas gets drawn into the RVs and campers near them – through a running Fantastic Vent or air conditioner – and causes serious harm. The sad thing is that this usually happens while the victims are sleeping, and they never wake up.
After reading a dozen or so news articles about actual instances where this has happened, a few patterns emerged. Usually the RVs are dry camping at a crowded event in the summer heat. For example, they’re at a NASCAR race crammed tightly together with other RVs in hot weather conditions. Without shore power, folks run their generators overnight to operate their air conditioning or CPAP machines. If those generator fumes happen to pool into a RV (theirs or a neighbors), people can die, or suffer terrible injuries. Please be aware of this situation, and avoid it.
Another all-too common scenario is leaving a generator to run overnight, again to operate air conditioning or a CPAP machine. During the night, the generator has a problem, or the wind pushes the generator exhaust into the air conditioner, or under the RV where it can seep up into the unit. The lesson there is to never run a generator when you’re sleeping. We did this once but, knowing what we know now, we’ll never do it again.
Angela and I have also added CO detectors to our bedroom at home. Home Depot and Lowes sell small, self-contained, and relatively inexpensive battery powered CO detectors. When we go camping in campers we don’t fully-know, I will bring this detector along and put it next to me in the cabover. It gives me more peace of mind.
For more information about the potential dangers of carbon monoxide I recommend reading the Advice page on CarbonMonoxideKills.com.
Installing the Detectors: Easy as 1-2-3
In what may be the most straight forward and important upgrade to our camper, replacing the detectors was as simple as unscrewing the old detectors, cutting the old detector wire leads to the camper wall, splicing those wires to the new detector wire leads, and screwing the new detectors back on. Honestly, that was it. It’s so easy a truck camping cat could do it, if he wasn’t too busy sleeping.
The first step was to remove the old detectors with a screwdriver. The CO and LP detectors are hard-wired to the camper 12-volt power. Once the screws were out, the wires connecting the two detectors to the 12-volt system were cut. We then looked at the detector expiration dates.
Above: The CO detector in our camper was dated April 8th, 2004. No expiration date is listed, but the unit was designed to be replaced every 5 years. According to MTI Industries, the recommended service life of CO and LP alarms is 5 years.
Above: The LP detector was dated February, 2004. Again, there was no expiration date listed, but the unit was designed to be replaced every 5 years.
Above: Bill Ward installed a fresh 9-volt battery in our new smoke detector.
We did not take a photograph of the back of the old smoke detector, but it was out of date and needed to be replaced. We also took the opportunity to install a brand new 9-volt battery in the new smoke detector. The recommended service life of smoke alarms is 10 years.
Nothing A Sharpie Can’t Fix
When you look at the back of CO, LP, and smoke detectors, you can clearly see the manufactured dates. This brings me to the one major bone I have to pick with MTI. For goodness sake, why is this date not clearly marked on the front of these detectors? For that matter, why not post an expiration date clearly on the front of these detectors?
Everything from bread to milk to medications has expiration dates, not manufactured dates. If properly working detectors are important, put an expiration date where the consumer can see it. Having this information easy to find could not only mean the difference between life-and-death, but also profitable as more folks know to purchase and replace their expired detectors.
I strongly advise documenting the manufactured date (and the resulting expiration date) of your detectors in a highly visible place. Off the top of my head, here are a few ideas on places you can put this information:
How about on the face of the detectors themselves? A simple Sharpie fine-point permanent marker will do, or get OCD with one of those label makers.
Above: The new CO detector has a date of July 29, 2014. This will need to be replaced in 2019.
Why not put the expiration dates on the back of your camper jack remote? You’re bound to look under your jack remote now and again, right? I know our jack remote 9-volt battery needs to be replaced annually; a perfect opportunity to think about those detectors.
Above: The new LP detector has a date of September 15th, 2014. This too will need to be replaced in 2019.
One more; inside the dump compartment door. You’ve got a moment to think as you dump the stink. What better time to look over your detector expiration dates? Any compartment door will do. Find one you frequent, and post this important information there.
All kidding aside, please take a moment to inspect your detectors, find the expiration date, and either write that date down, or replace the detectors, and jot the new detector expiration dates someplace you’ll see it regularly, and remember to check.
Cut, Strip, and Crimp
As someone who has wired about a thousand stereo systems over the past thirty years, cutting and stripping the wire that connected the CO and LP detectors was quite straight forward.
I happened to have my trusty wire stripper with me, which made the process of cutting and stripping the wire even easier.
Given how much wire one finds in a truck camper, a dedicated wire stripper should almost be considered mandatory for anyone who plans to work on their camper.
Of course scissors can both cut the wire, and – if done carefully – cut into the wire insulation to strip the wire. Either way works, but the dedicated wire stripper sure makes this simple.
Once the CO and LP detector wires were stripped and prepared, we stripped and prepared the wire leads coming from the camper for the corresponding detectors. The detector ground wires were then twisted with the ground wires from the camper, and fastened with permanent twist-on wire connectors.
Once the new CO and LP detectors were wired up, the next step was to install them back into the positions where the old detectors had been.
The CO detector was identical in shape to the detector it replaced and screwed into position in minutes. Something this simple, and this critical, is a no brainer for everyone reading this article. Seriously, please go out and check your CO detector right now.
The LP detector was a bit larger than the detector it replaced and required a bigger hole be cut to install the unit.
Bill Ward took an air tool saw and cut the space bigger to accommodate the new detector. This could have also been accomplished with a Dremel or small hand saw.
A few minutes later the unit was installed and screwed into place.
The smoke detector was a very quick installation. We removed the old detector, removed its mounting bracket, screwed in the new smoke detector bracket, put in the new 9-volt battery, and mounted the detector.
Then Angela got the privilege of testing the smoke detector. With a, “Beep! Beep! Beep!” we were done. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it can save your life, and those you care about.
First Alert Tundra Extinguisher
After replacing the CO, LP, and smoke detectors, it only made sense to replace our fire extinguisher as well. Most small fire extinguishers are supposed to last between five and fifteen years, depending on who you ask. As our fire extinguisher was at least eleven years old, we decided not to take the chance, and replace it.
During our extinguisher research, truck camper friends John and Linda Ross recommended a First Alert Tundra fire extinguisher. For about $13, the aerosol spray works on common household fires including paper, wood, fabric, grease, cooking oils, and electrical fires. According to the manufacturer, Tundra has a four-times greater discharge time compared to traditional extinguishers.
I like that the First Alert Tundra looks as easy to use as any other aerosol spray. If you can Glade spray the bathroom after Uncle Bob, you can use Tundra to fight a small fire. Even better, the Tundra spray is non-toxic, and biodegradable. I’m not sure that can be said about what Uncle Bob leaves behind.
We found cans of First Alert Tundra fire extinguishers at Walmart. The can we bought is clearly marked to expire on November 5th, 2019. I plan to pick up another two cans, one for the cabover, and another for the truck. When the opportunity knocks, we’ll use First Alert Tundra to put out a campfire, and report on our success.
A Really Dumb Way To Lose Readers
Next time you’re in your truck camper, please check the expiration dates on all three detectors, and check the battery in your smoke detector. Push the reset/test buttons on the face of the detectors to make sure the electronics of the device are functional. Test the alarm’s operation after storage, before each trip, and at least once per week during use.
Pushing the test button only tests the electronics of the smoke alarm or LP gas detector or CO alarm. There are cans of smoke to test smoke alarms, cans of CO to CO alarms, and you can use a unlit butane lighter to test a gas detector.
Replace the battery in your smoke detectors annually. If your detectors are out of date, please get them replaced as soon as possible.
Besides, fire, carbon monoxide poising, or LP gas explosions would be a really stupid way for Truck Camper Magazine to lose readership. We have a business to uphold here folks. Please do your part, if not for your own health and well being, then do it for us. We need you alive, having fun in your truck campers, and continuing to read the fine colorful electrons before you.
Safe-T-Alert is running a mail-in rebate on their detectors until October 31, 2015. For details, visit their website at stadealer.com/rebate.html. Reader feedback on this article was astouding!
If you have just recently bought a pre-owned camper, please also read How To Inspect A Used Truck Camper for more tips!