Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Dubbed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, but it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a steeper fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

When the weather gets colder, you close up your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. The good news is you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most effective methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to reap the benefits of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Therefore, this gas can appear anytime a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • 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 recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they sound an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke produced by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a single unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally beneficial home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you might not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are some factors to remember:

  • 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 will also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power with an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough to tell with no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have is dependent on your home’s size, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors around bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home heated. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate.
  • Add detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Put in detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines produce a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is nearby, it could lead to false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer might suggest monthly tests and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 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 after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Review the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, with the knowledge that testing follows this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is working correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick 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 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 running a test or after swapping the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function applies.

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 get a beep or see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm is triggered?

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You might not be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is functioning properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a 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 is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will enter your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to schedule repair services to keep the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Strand Brothers Service Experts

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

The team at Strand Brothers Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs could mean a likely carbon monoxide leak— including increased soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to avoid them.

Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact Strand Brothers Service Experts for more information.

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