Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas 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. Because of this, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide influence each year, a steeper fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most effective methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Try this guide to better 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 whenever something combusts. Because of this, this gas is produced when a fuel source is burned, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged 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 being used in the garage

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they sound an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two main modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you might not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is determined by the brand and model you want. 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 locate it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device is supposed to be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to tell with no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

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

The number of CO alarms you should have depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces must run constantly to keep your home heated. For that reason, every bedroom 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 sufficient.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is fully open. A CO detector right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air produced 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.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is nearby, it could lead to false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don't 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 specific unit, the manufacturer may recommend 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 starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector outright every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

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 practices 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 functioning correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two fast 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 quiet it.

Change the batteries if the unit isn't performing as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others need 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 listen for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t notice 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 assistance from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

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

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

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You might not be able to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is functioning correctly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not 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 could still be producing 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 establish if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Get Support from Golden Seal Service Experts

With the proper 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, especially as winter starts.

The team at Golden Seal 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 likely carbon monoxide leak— including 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 Golden Seal Service Experts for more information.

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