Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas 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. As a result, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate versus any other type of poisoning.

While the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. This is where the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most effective methods is to add CO detectors throughout your home. Try this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide comes from 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 produced whenever a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning 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 sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they start an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors come with both forms of alarms in a single unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you check 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 keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are visibly labeled. If not, look 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 more than 10 years old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are 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 with no label on the front, so checking 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, number of floors and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to provide thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around bedrooms: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces must run more often to keep your home warm. For that reason, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is adequate.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is fully open. A CO detector just inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Have detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently pushed up by the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is best 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: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don't 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 specific unit, the manufacturer may suggest monthly testing and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two fast 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 stop it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected for 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 swapping the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others need a manual reset. The instruction manual will 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 wait 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 it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

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

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is operating correctly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to try and thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source may still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to arrange 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 worry about carbon monoxide inhalation 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 is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs indicate a likely carbon monoxide leak— such as excessive soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to avoid 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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