Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Known as 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 die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate versus other types of poisoning. 

As the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the threat of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. The good news is you can defend your family from a gas leak in a variety of ways. One of the most efficient methods is to add CO detectors in your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors. 

What causes carbon monoxide in a house? 

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. As a result, this gas is produced whenever a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house include: 

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent 
  • Faulty 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 being used in the garage 

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide? 

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they sound an alarm when they recognize a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent

Smoke detectors are available in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns. 

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly essential home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and notice 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 based on the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to remember: 

  • Some 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 extract power with an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms]]94. The device {should be labeled so. 
  • Some alarms will be 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 double checking the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile. 

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

The number of CO alarms you should have is dependent on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to provide total coverage: 

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home heated. Therefore, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate. 
  • Install detectors on all floors: 
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on all floors. 
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels entering 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 placed at eye level to make sure they’re easy to read. 
  • Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines produce a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is nearby, it may 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, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in strong 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 will sometimes recommend testing once a month and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. 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 

All it takes is a minute to test your CO alarm. Check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general routine: 

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off. 
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is working correctly. 
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two short 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 stop it. 

Swap out the batteries if the unit isn’t performing 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 when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after swapping the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function is applicable. 

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, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or install a new detector. 

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

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family: 

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You won’t always be able to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is functioning properly when it goes off. 
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you’re able to, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken 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 beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source may still be producing carbon monoxide. 
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you might need to arrange repair services to keep the problem from reappearing. 

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 

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

The team at Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— including 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 & Plumbing for more information. 

  • How to Choose a Suitable HVAC System

    When it comes to keeping your home comfortable year-round, nothing is more essential than picking out the right heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. This decision affects your daily comfort, monthly utility bills and overall home efficiency. Then again, with so many system... Continue reading

  • Year-End HVAC Maintenance Checklist

    Now that the air turns chilly, you know it’s time to get your home ready for the cooler months ahead. Your heating system is critical to maintaining a cozy, warm setting. A well-maintained furnace supplies the comfort you want while using a smaller amount of energy. Regular inspections also make... Continue reading

  • Tips to Boost Your Home’s Energy Efficiency in Winter

    With winter on the way, you could be eyeing your energy bills with dread. The cold months often bring a rise in electricity or natural gas costs, depending on what fuel source you use to heat your home and hot water. But don’t fret—with the right approach, you can regulate your winter energy... Continue reading