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, however it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate versus any other type of poisoning.

As the weather gets colder, you insulate your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. As a result, this gas can appear when a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment operating 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 level of smoke generated by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two main modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both beneficial home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you won't always realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to remember:

  • Some devices are clearly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power from an outlet are typically carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be hard to tell without a label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have is determined by your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces must run more often to keep your home comfortable. For that reason, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed around 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in 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 every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Have detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it might give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, avoid installing 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 design, 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 annually or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Review the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general process:

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

Swap out the batteries if the unit won't work as expected after 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 when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function is applicable.

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 get a beep or see a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

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

Follow these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You won't always be able to notice unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is working properly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the root cause could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will enter your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to arrange repair services to keep the problem from reappearing.

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the right precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Besides 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 understand what signs indicate a potential carbon monoxide leak— like excess 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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