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. As a result, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to reap the benefits of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. As a result, this gas is generated when a fuel source burns, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked 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 start an alarm when they sense a certain amount of smoke generated by a fire. Installing dependable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two primary modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors include both kinds of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you inspect 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 discrepancy is based on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to remember:

  • Some devices are properly labeled. If not, look for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. That being said, it can be tough to tell if there's no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors should I install in my home?

The number of CO alarms you need is dependent on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home warm. Therefore, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: Many people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm just inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Have detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is ideal 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 at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines produce a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This breaks up quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer will sometimes 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 begins chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO alarm. Check the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, knowing that testing practices this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 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 let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to quiet it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected for 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 when the alarm goes off, after a test or after swapping the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models require 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 hear 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 assistance from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

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

Follow these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to detect hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is functioning properly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to try and dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source might still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, look 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 arrange repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Midland Air Service Experts

With the right precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter starts.

The team at Midland Air Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs indicate a possible carbon monoxide leak— including 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 Midland Air Service Experts for more information.

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