Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, however it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate versus any other kind of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can defend your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most effective methods is to put in CO detectors in your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to make the most of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Because of this, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • 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 sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they begin an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke produced by a fire. Installing dependable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two primary modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a single unit to boost the chance of recognizing a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally 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 difference is determined by the brand and model you prefer. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are visibly 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 older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device is supposed to be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be hard to tell if there's no label on the front, so reviewing 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 require is dependent on your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home warm. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on all floors:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: Many people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors up against the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines produce a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it could give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

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

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO alarm. Read 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 take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is working 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 release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it.

Change the batteries if the unit won't work 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're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after a test or after swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function you should use.

Follow 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 observe a flash, start 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 do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm is triggered?

Follow 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 expect 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 help weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will search your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to request repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Find Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

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

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