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, but it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide influence each year, a steeper fatality rate compared to any other type of poisoning.

While the weather cools down, you insulate your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the danger of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. The good news is you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors in your home. Try this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide can appear from 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 is generated whenever a fuel source burns, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle idling in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they sound an alarm when they detect a certain amount of smoke produced by a fire. Installing dependable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors include both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you may not realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference depends on the brand and model you have. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are clearly labeled. If not, look for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You will 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 almost always carbon monoxide sensors be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be difficult to tell with 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 need depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces are running more often to keep your home warm. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in 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 each floor.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while 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 inside your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best located at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may lead to false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may encourage monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO detector. Review the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, understanding that testing uses this general process:

  • 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 operating correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device goes on beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Change the batteries if the unit isn’t performing as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual should 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, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

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

Follow these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to detect hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you’re able to, 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 triggered.
  • Don’t assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the root cause may still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will enter your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from reappearing.

Get Support from Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing

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

The team at Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— including excessive 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 Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing for more information.

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