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, yet it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide influence each year, a higher fatality rate than any other kind of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can defend your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most effective methods is to add 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 alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source burns, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent 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 while a fire is lit
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

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

Smoke detectors are available in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors include both forms of alarms in one unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Clearly, 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 contrast is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are visibly labeled. If not, look for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device is supposed to be labeled saying as much.
  • 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 tough to tell if there's no label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

How many carbon monoxide detectors should I install in my home?

The number of CO alarms you need is determined by your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home comfortable. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed around 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Install 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.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people unsafely leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, 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 elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Have detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s often pushed up by the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors up against the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize 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 detector?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer may recommend testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • 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 functioning 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.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected during 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 after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function applies.

Use 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, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You won't always be able to identify unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is working properly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the root cause may still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, look for 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 request repair services to stop the problem from recurring.

Seek Support from Bob Brown Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter arrives.

The team at Bob Brown Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— including excess 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 Bob Brown Service Experts for more information.

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