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 lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools down, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Thankfully you can defend your family from a gas leak in several 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 can appear from and how to reap the benefits of your CO sensors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. As a result, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source is burned, including 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 damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle running 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 begin an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors include both types of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of sensing a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally beneficial home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you won't always recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference depends on the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality 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 can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide detectors94. The device should be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be hard to tell with no 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 bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home heated. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is enough.
  • Put in detectors on all floors:
    Dense 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 every level.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Put in detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This dissipates quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it could give off 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, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer might encourage testing once a month and resetting to sustain 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 is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO sensor. Read the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, knowing that testing practices 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 working correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick 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.

Swap out the batteries if the unit won't work as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other models require 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 listen 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 replace the detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

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

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to identify hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is functioning properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the root cause could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Find Support from Teays Valley Service Experts

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

The team at Teays Valley Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs indicate a possible carbon monoxide leak— like excessive 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 Teays Valley Service Experts for more information.

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