Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases 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. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

While the weather gets colder, you insulate 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 carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source burns, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle idling 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 begin an alarm when they recognize a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two primary modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors incorporate both forms of alarms in a single unit to increase the chance of recognizing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both beneficial home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you might not realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Most devices are properly 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 10 years old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide detectors94. The device should be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to tell with no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have depends on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home warm. As a result, each 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, just one detector is sufficient.
  • Add detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people unsafely leave their cars on in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Have detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently pushed up by the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may give off false alarms.
  • Install 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 direct sunlight, around 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 maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Read the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, understanding that testing practices this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Replace the batteries if the unit won't work as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after replacing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function you should use.

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 hear a beep or see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Follow these steps to take care of your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You might not be able to identify dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the root cause may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and establish 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.

Find Support from Peachtree Service Experts

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

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

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