Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, yet it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate versus any other kind of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to keep warm. This is when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors throughout your home. Try this guide to help you 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 something burned. Therefore, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty 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 idling in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment operating in the garage

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they start an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke produced by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both important home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you might not realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference depends on the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are properly labeled. If not, look for 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 older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device should be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough to tell without a label on the front, so checking 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 need depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home comfortable. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector just inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s often carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors near the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best located at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it could give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess 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 model, the manufacturer will sometimes recommend monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping signifies 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 quiet it.

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can 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 wait for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t hear a beep or observe a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, 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 goes off?

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to recognize hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to try and dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source might still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to keep the problem from reappearing.

Get Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter starts.

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