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, yet it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Try this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to reap the benefits of your CO detectors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Poorly 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 start an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke caused by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a solitary unit to maximize the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

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

  • Most 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 should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power from an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be difficult to tell without a 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 should have is dependent on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to provide complete coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home heated. For that reason, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed about 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Add detectors on all floors:
    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 each floor.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is wide open. A CO detector right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Installing detectors near the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Put in detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This breaks up quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it may lead to false alarms.
  • Have 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 sensor?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer might encourage monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever starts 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 detector. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping signifies 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 silence it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function you should use.

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, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

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

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is working correctly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to help 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 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, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to stop the problem from recurring.

Seek Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter starts.

The team at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs could mean 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning for more information.

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