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, yet it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a higher fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. This is where the threat of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in a variety of ways. One of the most effective methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to make the most of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • 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 sense carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they begin an alarm when they detect a certain level of smoke produced by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two basic modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in a single unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you may not realize 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 remember:

  • Some devices are visibly 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 older than 10 years, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different 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 should I install in my home?

The number of CO alarms you require is determined by your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home comfortable. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor just inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s often pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best located at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it may trigger false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer might recommend monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector outright every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, knowing that testing uses this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two fast beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop 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 immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after replacing 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 wait for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t hear 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 get rid of the faulty detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to recognize dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to try and thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a 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 beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the source could still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to stop the problem from reappearing.

Find Support from Coastal Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter arrives.

The team at Coastal Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs suggest a potential 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 Coastal Service Experts for more information.

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