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. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a higher fatality rate versus any other type of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, you close up your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the threat of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly 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. Instead, they start an alarm when they sense a certain concentration of smoke produced by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly essential home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you won't always realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to remember:

  • Most devices are clearly labeled. If not, try to find 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 older than 10 years, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide alarms94. The device is supposed to be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be hard to tell with no label on the front, so double checking 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 require depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most prevalent at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home warm. Therefore, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Add detectors on all floors:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A lot of people unsafely leave their cars on in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Having detectors near the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines produce a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may give off false alarms.
  • Put in 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 specific unit, the manufacturer might encourage testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is operating correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device keeps beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform 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 need to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while others require 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 observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, 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 safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You may not be able to recognize hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is working correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, 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 inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the source could still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, measure 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 will sometimes need to arrange repair services to prevent the problem from reappearing.

Find Support from Pardee Service Experts

With the right precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter arrives.

The team at Pardee Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs indicate a likely 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 Pardee Service Experts for more information.

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