Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Dubbed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, yet it can result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

While the weather cools down, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to take full advantage of your CO alarms.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Therefore, this gas is generated when a fuel source is burned, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
  • 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. Alternatively, they begin 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 nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both beneficial home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you won't always realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is determined by the brand and model you prefer. Here are several factors to consider:

  • Quality devices are properly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough 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 will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you require is dependent on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to guarantee complete coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home heated. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: Many people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Put in detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but if 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 specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may suggest monthly tests and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector outright every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO detector. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, with the knowledge that testing uses this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence 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 entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others need a manual reset. The instruction manual can 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 notice a beep or see a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You won't always be able to detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working properly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the source may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to request repair services to keep the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially 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 could mean a likely carbon monoxide leak— such as 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning for more information.