Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, but it can result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

While the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to keep warm. This is when the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most effective methods is to install CO detectors in 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 produced when a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle running in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they begin an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both forms of alarms in a single unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, no matter how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Most devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are typically carbon monoxide detectors94. The device is supposed to be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Still, it can be difficult 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 do I need in my home?

The number of CO alarms you need depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces must run more often to keep your home heated. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is adequate.
  • Add detectors on every floor:
    Concentrated 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 every level.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: Many people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors up against the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best located at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but if a CO detector is positioned too close, it might lead to false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer will sometimes recommend testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 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 sensor. Check the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, with the knowledge that testing uses this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 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 continues beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it.

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

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

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

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

Listen to these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You won't always be able to notice unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is functioning properly when it starts.
  • 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 thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your 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 running. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the root cause may still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check 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 arrange repair services to keep the problem from recurring.

Get Support from Climate Control Service Experts

With the proper 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 arrives.

The team at Climate Control Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs indicate a possible carbon monoxide leak— such as 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 Climate Control Service Experts for more information.

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