Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas 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. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide influence each year, a steeper fatality rate versus other types of poisoning.

While the weather gets colder, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. This is when the threat of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. As a result, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • 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. In fact, they begin an alarm when they sense a certain amount of smoke caused by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors include both forms 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 equally beneficial home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you might not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Most devices are properly labeled. If not, check for 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 more than a decade old, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be difficult to tell with no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you require depends on your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to provide thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home heated. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s often pushed up by the hot air released 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 make them easier to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines produce a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it might lead to false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer might suggest monthly testing and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, change out 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 after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO detector. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices 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.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device keeps 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 fails to perform 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 a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others need a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function you should use.

Use 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, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Listen to these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You won't always be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is working correctly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to thin out 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 is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source might still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, try to find 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 prevent the problem from reappearing.

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

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

The team at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs suggest a likely 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning for more information.

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