Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Known as 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 as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a higher fatality rate compared to any other type of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from a gas leak in a variety of ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO sensors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas is generated whenever a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Improperly 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. Instead, they sound an alarm when they detect a certain amount of smoke generated by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with quick-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors include both kinds of alarms in one unit to boost the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you might not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are clearly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power from an outlet are typically carbon monoxide sensors94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Still, it can be hard to tell with no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

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

The number of CO alarms you should have depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces must run more often to keep your home warm. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is enough.
  • Add detectors on all floors:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become caught 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 the internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Install detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may recommend testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO alarm. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, knowing that testing practices this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is working correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Replace the batteries if the unit won't work as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

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

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 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 install a new detector.

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

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

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to detect hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is functioning properly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source could still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, 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 return. Depending on the cause, you might need to arrange repair services to prevent the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Comfortech Service Experts

With the right precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter gets underway.

The team at Comfortech Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs suggest 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 Comfortech Service Experts for more information.

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