Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

While the weather cools off, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the threat of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Thankfully you can defend your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most effective methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Try this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to take full advantage of your CO sensors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle idling in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment being used in the garage

Do smoke detectors detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they start an alarm when they recognize a certain amount of smoke produced by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two basic types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you might not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is based on the brand and model you want. Here are several factors to remember:

  • Most devices are clearly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You can 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 almost always carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled so.
  • 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 if there's no label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

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. Use these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces are running constantly to keep your home warm. As a result, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Install detectors on all floors:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s often 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 include digital readouts are best located at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it could give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer will sometimes suggest monthly tests 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 begins chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector completely 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. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, understanding that testing uses this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is working correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick 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.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after a test or after changing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function is applicable.

Use 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 observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Listen to these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to notice 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 as quickly as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a 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 root cause could still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will enter your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Gordon's Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter arrives.

The team at Gordon's Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— including increased soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to avoid them.

Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact Gordon's Service Experts for more information.

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