Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

While the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most effective methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO sensors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Therefore, this gas can appear when a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common 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 idling in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they sound an alarm when they recognize a certain amount of smoke produced by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

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

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you look up at 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 difference depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Most devices are properly labeled. If not, look 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 use power through an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be hard to tell if there's no label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have is determined by your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home comfortable. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck 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 an attached garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it could trigger false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, near 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 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 is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO sensor. Check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is working 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 let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual should 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 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 that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or replace the detector.

What do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Listen to 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 expect the alarm is working correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, 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 explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not assume 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 root cause could still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to arrange repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Find Support from Calverley Service Experts

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

The team at Calverley Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs indicate a likely carbon monoxide leak— such as excess soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to resolve them.

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

chat now widget box