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. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide influence each year, a steeper fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

As the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from a gas leak in a variety of ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors in your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to make the most of your CO detectors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Therefore, this gas is generated whenever 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:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle running 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. Instead, they start an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, despite how it burns.

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

  • Quality devices are visibly 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 right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Still, it can be hard to tell if there's no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you need is determined by your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces have to run more often to keep your home heated. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is enough.
  • Add detectors on all floors:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck 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: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when 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 elevated carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This breaks up quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it could trigger false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer might encourage monthly tests and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO detector. Review the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Change the batteries if the unit won't work as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after changing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual should 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 hear a beep or see a flash, attempt 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 starts?

Follow these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to notice dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating correctly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, 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 gone off.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source may still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Find Support from All American Air Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter gets underway.

The team at All American Air Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs indicate a possible carbon monoxide leak— such as excess 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 All American Air Service Experts for more information.

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