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, yet it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate compared to any other type of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to keep warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in several ways. One of the most efficient methods is to add CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to take full advantage of your CO sensors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is ignited, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment being used in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they sound an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors reduces 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 works best with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a single unit to boost the chance of recognizing a fire, despite how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you may 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 several factors to remember:

  • Quality devices are clearly labeled. If not, look for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You should 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 typically carbon monoxide detectors94. The device is supposed to be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell if there's no 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 require is determined by your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home warm. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Install detectors on each floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector just inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best located at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines emit a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it might lead to false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in harsh 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 will sometimes suggest testing once a month and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector outright after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

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, with the knowledge that testing follows this general routine:

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

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after changing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms need a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function you should use.

Follow 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 see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

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

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

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is working properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to help thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Don't assume 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 might still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from reappearing.

Seek Support from Strand Brothers Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter arrives.

The team at Strand Brothers Service Experts is qualified 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— such as excessive 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 Strand Brothers Service Experts for more information.

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