Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

When the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. This is where the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. The good news is you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is ignited, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle idling in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they begin an alarm when they sense a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with quick-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both forms of alarms in a single unit to boost the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly essential home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you might not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to remember:

  • Some devices are properly labeled. If not, look 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 more than a decade old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide detectors94. The device is supposed to be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell without a label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

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

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

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most likely at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home heated. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed about 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Concentrated 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 every level.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: Many people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it might give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, avoid installing 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 model, the manufacturer might recommend testing once a month and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector outright every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 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 continues beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it.

Replace the batteries if the unit isn't performing as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function is applicable.

Carry out 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 nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

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

Follow these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to identify unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is working properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source could still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from recurring.

Get Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter arrives.

The team at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs suggest a possible carbon monoxide leak— like excessive 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning for more information.

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