Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, yet it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most effective methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. As a result, this gas is produced whenever a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • 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 running 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. Alternatively, they sound an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke produced by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detection is more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both forms of alarms in one unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you won't always realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is based on the brand and model you prefer. Here are several 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 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 through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be hard to tell without a label on the front, so reviewing 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, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to provide complete coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces are running more often to keep your home heated. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor right inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models 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 tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is nearby, it might give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may recommend monthly testing and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever starts 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

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge that testing uses this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is working correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device keeps 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 isn't performing as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function is applicable.

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

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

Follow these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to identify dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is operating correctly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly 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 the local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • Do not 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 could still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, try to find 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 prevent the problem from reappearing.

Get Support from Donelson Air Service Experts

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

The team at Donelson Air Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as 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 Donelson Air Service Experts for more information.

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