Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Nicknamed 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 suffer fatal carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a higher fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Try this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Therefore, this gas is produced when a fuel source burns, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

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

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they begin an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly essential home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you might not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Some devices are visibly labeled. If not, look for 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 older than 10 years, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device will be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be hard to tell if there's no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

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

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

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home heated. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people unsafely leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Install detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines produce a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it might give off false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer might encourage monthly tests and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO alarm. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, with the knowledge that testing follows this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Change the batteries if the unit won't work as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others need a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function applies.

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 notice a beep or observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Follow these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to identify dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working properly when it goes off.
  • 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 explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the source could still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check 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 schedule repair services to prevent the problem from recurring.

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter arrives.

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

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