Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases found in the home. Dubbed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, however it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

As the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Try this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas is produced when a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

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

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

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

Smoke detectors are available in two main modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors include both forms of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of sensing a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both beneficial home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you won't always realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Some devices are visibly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You should also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be difficult to tell without a label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you require is determined by your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to guarantee complete coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces must run constantly to keep your home warm. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Put in detectors on all floors:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide buildup can become caught on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may recommend testing once a month and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Check the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, understanding that testing follows this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is working correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick 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 won't work as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function you should use.

Use these steps to reset your CO detector manually:

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

If you don’t get a beep or see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

What do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm is triggered?

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

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working properly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to try and dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the root cause could still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, evaluate 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 may need to arrange repair services to keep the problem from returning.

Find Support from Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter starts.

The team at Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as excess soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to prevent them.

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