Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases found in the home. Known as the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, however it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate versus any other type of poisoning. 

When the weather cools down, you insulate your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to keep warm. This is when the danger of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. The good news is you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors. 

What generates carbon monoxide in a house? 

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Because of this, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be: 

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent 
  • Broken down water heater 
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire 
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove 
  • Vehicle running in the garage 
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage 

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide? 

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they start an alarm when they detect a certain amount of smoke generated by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent

Smoke detectors are offered in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with quick-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors include both types of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns. 

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is based on the brand and model you have. Here are some factors to consider: 

  • Some devices are properly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it as soon as possible. 
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors be labeled saying as much. 
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be hard to tell with no label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart. 

How many carbon monoxide detectors should I install in my home? 

The number of CO alarms you need depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to provide total coverage: 

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home warm. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is sufficient. 
  • Add detectors on every floor: 
    Concentrated carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on each floor. 
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: Many people end up leaving their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector right inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels entering your home. 
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read. 
  • Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms. 
  • Have detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don’t install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances. 

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor? 

Depending on the design, the manufacturer will sometimes recommend monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector outright after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm 

All it takes is a minute to test your CO alarm. Review the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general procedure: 

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start. 
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is functioning correctly. 
  • Release the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device keeps beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it. 

Change the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector immediately. 

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm 

You only have to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after changing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models require a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function applies. 

Follow these steps to reset your CO detector manually: 

  • Press and hold the Reset button for 5 to 10 seconds. 
  • Release the button and wait for a beep, a flash or both. 

If you don’t get a beep or observe a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector. 

What do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts? 

Listen to these steps to take care of your home and family: 

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You won’t always be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is functioning correctly when it is triggered. 
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken the concentration of CO gas. 
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started. 
  • Don’t assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the root cause may still be creating carbon monoxide. 
  • When emergency responders show up, they will enter your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to request repair services to keep the problem from returning. 

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

With the right precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter arrives. 

The team at Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs indicate a potential carbon monoxide leak— including increased soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to avoid them. 

Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing for more information. 

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