Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Known as the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, however it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate versus other types of poisoning.

While the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Try this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from 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. Therefore, this gas is produced when a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
  • Improperly 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 sound an alarm when they sense a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors come with both forms of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of recognizing a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you won't always recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to remember:

  • Quality devices are visibly 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 older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors94. The device should be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. That being said, it can be hard to tell with 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 require is dependent on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to provide thorough coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home comfortable. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is enough.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become caught on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor right inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s often pushed up by the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to 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.
  • Put in detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines produce a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it may lead to false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to 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 alarm?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer may encourage monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Read the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, understanding that testing uses this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is working correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to quiet it.

Change the batteries if the unit won't work as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function applies.

Follow these steps to reset your CO detector manually:

  • Press and hold the Reset button for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Release the button and wait for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t get a beep or see a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm is triggered?

Listen to these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You won't always be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working 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 help thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the root cause might still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will enter your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Air Engineers Service Experts

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

The team at Air Engineers Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as excess 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 Air Engineers Service Experts for more information.

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