Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

When the weather gets colder, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO detectors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. As a result, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is burned, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty 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 operating in the garage

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they start an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors come with both forms of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both 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 is based on the brand and model you prefer. Here are some factors to remember:

  • Most devices are properly labeled. If not, look 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 more than 10 years old, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell with no label on the front, so reviewing 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 is dependent on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home warm. For that reason, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is enough.
  • Add detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally 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 increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines produce a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it could give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit 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 sensor?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer will sometimes suggest monthly tests and resetting to maintain 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 begins chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector outright after 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 sensor. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, knowing that testing uses this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is operating correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick 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 quiet it.

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual will 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, 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 should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Use these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You won't always be able to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working correctly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to try and thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the root cause may still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Barlow Service Experts

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

The team at Barlow Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs suggest a likely carbon monoxide leak— like 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 Barlow Service Experts for more information.

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