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, but it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate versus other types 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 risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to make the most of your CO detectors. 

What causes carbon monoxide in a house? 

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas is produced when a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include: 

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent 
  • Broken down water heater 
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire 
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove 
  • Vehicle running in the garage 
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage 

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide? 

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they begin an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent

Smoke detectors are available in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns. 

Unmistakably, 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 discrepancy depends on the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to remember: 

  • Quality devices are properly labeled. If not, try to find 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 draw power from an outlet are typically carbon monoxide will be labeled so. 
  • 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 if there’s no label on the front, so reviewing 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 need depends on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage: 

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors near wherever people sleep: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces are running more often to keep your home heated. As a result, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate. 
  • Install detectors on all floors: 
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become caught 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 your internal garage door: Many people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels inside your home. 
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Having detectors near the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read. 
  • Put in detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it could trigger false alarms. 
  • Install detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances. 

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor? 

Depending on the model, 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 once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector outright every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm 

It only takes a minute to test your CO sensor. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, understanding that testing uses this general procedure: 

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start. 
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is functioning correctly. 
  • Release 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 stop it. 

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

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm 

You’re only required to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after running a test or after swapping the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual should 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 observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, 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 goes off? 

Listen to these steps to protect your home and family: 

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You won’t always be able to notice unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working correctly when it is triggered. 
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken the concentration of CO gas. 
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off. 
  • 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 generating carbon monoxide. 
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter your home, evaluate 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 might need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from returning. 

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

With the right precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter starts. 

The team at Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a likely carbon monoxide leak— like 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 Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing for more information. 

  • How to Choose a Suitable HVAC System

    When it comes to keeping your home comfortable all year, nothing is more critical than choosing the right heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. This choice influences your daily comfort, monthly utility costs and general home efficiency. But, with so many system types, sizes and... Continue reading

  • Year-End HVAC Maintenance Checklist

    Now that the air starts to get cold, you know it’s time to winterize your residence for the cooler months ahead. Your heating system is crucial to maintaining a cozy, warm setting. A well-maintained furnace delivers the comfort you desire while using less energy. Scheduled inspections also make... Continue reading

  • Ways to Increase Your Furnace’s Energy Efficiency

    With winter on the way, you might be eyeing your energy bills with a sense of unease. The chilly months often bring a rise in electricity or natural gas costs, depending on what fuel source you use to heat your home and hot water. But don’t panic—with an appropriate approach, you can manage... Continue reading