Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

As the weather cools down, you insulate your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to remain warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to add CO detectors in your home. Try this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to make the most of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Therefore, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle running in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment operating in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they sound an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke produced by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is 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 sensing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you may not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Some devices are properly labeled. If not, check for 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 older than 10 years, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device is supposed to be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, offering protection against 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 smart.

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

The number of CO alarms you require depends on your home’s size, number of floors and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to provide complete coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home heated. For that reason, 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, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A surprising number of 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 detector immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This breaks up quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, near 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 encourage monthly tests and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO detector. Review the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, understanding that testing practices this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to quiet it.

Replace 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 once 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 applies.

Carry out 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, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

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

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to recognize 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 immediately. If you can, 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 inform them 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 source could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

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

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

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