Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, but it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide influence each year, a higher fatality rate compared to any other type of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most effective methods is to add CO detectors throughout your home. Use this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Because of this, this gas can appear anytime a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting 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. In fact, they sound an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke caused by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two main modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you won't always know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are some 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 can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to tell if there's no label on the front, so 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 require depends on your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to guarantee total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces are running constantly to keep your home heated. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s often pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may lead to false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer will sometimes encourage monthly testing and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • 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 operating correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two fast beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Change the batteries if the unit isn't performing as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after running a test or after swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others need a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function applies.

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 get a beep or observe a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

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

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is operating correctly when it goes off.
  • 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 a local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • 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 root cause may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to request repair services to keep the problem from reappearing.

Find Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s crucial 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 understand what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning for more information.

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