Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk 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 suffer fatal carbon monoxide influence each year, a larger fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, 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 several ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas can appear whenever a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Poorly 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. In fact, they sound an alarm when they recognize a certain level of smoke produced by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both forms of alarms in one unit to boost the chance of recognizing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you check 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 discrepancy depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are some factors to remember:

  • Some devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find 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 older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide sensors94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be difficult to tell if there's no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

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

The number of CO alarms you require is dependent on your home’s size, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces must run constantly to keep your home heated. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO detector just inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Installing detectors up against the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Put in detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines produce a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it might lead to false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer will sometimes encourage monthly testing and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap 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 happens first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO alarm. Review the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, knowing that testing practices this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two fast beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual will 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 get a beep or observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Follow these steps to take care of your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss 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 goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to help thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • 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 root cause may still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, assess 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 might need to request repair services to prevent the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Comfort Masters 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 important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter arrives.

The team at Comfort Masters Service Experts is ready 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— like excessive 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 Comfort Masters Service Experts for more information.

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