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 result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide influence each year, a steeper fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to remain warm. This is where the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most efficient methods is to put in CO detectors in your home. Try this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from 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. Because of this, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle idling in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment operating in the garage

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

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

Smoke detectors come in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors come with both forms of alarms in a single unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are properly labeled. If not, check 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 as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power with an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. That being said, it can be hard to tell without a label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home?

The number of CO alarms you need depends on your home’s size, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to guarantee complete coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home heated. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on all floors:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become caught on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: Many people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor just inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to 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 them easier to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines produce a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, don't 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 detector?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer might encourage monthly testing and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

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, understanding that testing practices this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is working correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two short 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 during the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after changing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function is applicable.

Carry out 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 get a beep or observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, 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?

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

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is functioning properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to try and thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Find Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter starts.

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

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