Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, however it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a steeper fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

When the weather gets colder, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to take full advantage of your CO alarms.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. As a result, this gas is produced whenever a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
  • 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 detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they sound an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke caused by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detection is more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors include both forms of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you won't always recognize 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 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 look it up online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough to tell without a label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

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 the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most likely at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home comfortable. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is enough.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become caught on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Have 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 wide open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Have detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it could trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer might recommend monthly tests and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO detector. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, understanding that testing follows this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is working correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two short beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

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

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 replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual will 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 wait for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t get a beep or see a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You won't always be able to notice hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating correctly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a 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 is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to request repair services to keep the problem from reappearing.

Get Support from A1 Chesney Service Experts

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter gets underway.

The team at A1 Chesney Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs suggest 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 A1 Chesney Service Experts for more information.

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