Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Dubbed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, but it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate compared to any other type of poisoning.

As the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most effective methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. As a result, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

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

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they start an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Installing dependable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both forms of alarms in one unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both essential home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you may not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Quality devices are visibly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be difficult to tell without a 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 should have depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces must run constantly to keep your home warm. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Put in detectors on all floors:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so do your best 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 unsafely leave their cars on in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best located at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Add detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines give off a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it may trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from extreme 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 strong sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may recommend 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 starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 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 quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit isn't performing as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, 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 running a test or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models 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 listen for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t notice a beep or see a flash, attempt 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 can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to identify dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is functioning properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Find Support from Roland J. Down Service Experts

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

The team at Roland J. Down Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— like excess soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to avoid them.

Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact Roland J. Down Service Experts for more information.

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