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 cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide influence each year, a larger fatality rate versus any other kind of poisoning.

While the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. This is where the risk 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 successful methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from 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. As a result, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

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

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they start an alarm when they detect a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in a single unit to increase the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly essential home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you might not 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:

  • Some devices are clearly labeled. If not, check 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 more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide detectors94. The device is supposed to be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be hard to tell if there's no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

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

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

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home heated. As a result, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become caught on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm just inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Put in detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s often carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from extreme 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, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer might recommend monthly testing and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm begins 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

It only takes a minute to test your CO alarm. Review the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, knowing that testing follows 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.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two fast 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 silence it.

Replace the batteries if the unit won't work as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, 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 swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other models require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function is applicable.

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 hear a beep or observe a flash, start 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 do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

Follow these steps to take care of 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 starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the 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 might help air it out, but the root cause might still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to request repair services to prevent the problem from reappearing.

Get Support from Neal Harris Service Experts

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter gets underway.

The team at Neal Harris Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as 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 Neal Harris Service Experts for more information.

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