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, but it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate versus any other type of poisoning. 

When the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms. 

What causes carbon monoxide in a house? 

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

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent 
  • Malfunctioning water heater 
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged 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 operating in the garage 

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide? 

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they sound an alarm when they sense a certain amount of smoke caused by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent

Smoke detectors come in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, no matter how it burns. 

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you may not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference depends on the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to keep in mind: 

  • Some devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it right away. 
  • Plug-in devices that draw power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms]]94. The device {should be labeled saying as much. 
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be hard to tell without a label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet. 

How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home? 

The number of CO alarms you require depends on your home’s size, number of floors and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to provide total coverage: 

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces must run constantly to keep your home heated. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed about 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate. 
  • Add detectors on every floor: 
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on all floors. 
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people unsafely leave their cars running in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home. 
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make sure they’re easy to read. 
  • Put in detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it could lead to false alarms. 
  • Put in detectors away from extreme 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 detector? 

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer will sometimes suggest monthly tests and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector outright every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines. 

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm 

All it takes is a minute to test your CO sensor. Review the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, knowing that testing follows this general routine: 

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin. 
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating correctly. 
  • Release the Test button and wait for two fast beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to quiet it. 

Replace 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 after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function you should use. 

Follow 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, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn’t help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector. 

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off? 

Use these steps to protect your home and family: 

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You may not be able to detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is operating properly when it starts. 
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas. 
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered. 
  • It’s wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source may still be creating carbon monoxide. 
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to request repair services to keep the problem from reappearing. 

Get Support from Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

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

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 suggest a likely carbon monoxide leak— like excessive soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to resolve 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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