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, but it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide influence each year, a higher fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. This is when the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from a gas leak in a variety of 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 is produced and how to take full advantage of your CO sensors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning 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 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 begin an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Possessing dependable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors include both types of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you won't always know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are clearly 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 a decade old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are 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 if there's no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you require is determined by your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near wherever people sleep: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces must run constantly to keep your home comfortable. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed around 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Put in detectors on each floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become trapped 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 an attached garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors near 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 them easier to read.
  • Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a small, harmless 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.
  • Put in detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, near 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 recommend 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 every year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO sensor. Check the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, with the knowledge that testing follows this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is operating correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two fast 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 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're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms 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 wait 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 it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

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

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

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You may not be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to help dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • 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 root cause may still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, assess 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 prevent the problem from recurring.

Find Support from R & M Climate Control Service Experts

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

The team at R & M Climate Control Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— like increased 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 R & M Climate Control Service Experts for more information.

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