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, yet it can result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate compared to any other kind of poisoning.

As the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in several ways. One of the most effective methods is to install CO detectors throughout your home. Use this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO alarms.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment being used in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they sound an alarm when they detect a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Installing dependable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that produce 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 increase the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both essential home safety devices. If you check 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 discrepancy is based on the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Some devices are clearly labeled. If not, check 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 a decade old, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device will be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. That being said, it can be tough to tell with no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

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

The number of CO alarms you need is determined by your home’s size, number of floors and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home warm. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: Many people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Put in detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This dissipates quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it might give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer may suggest monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO sensor. Check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, understanding that testing practices this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is operating correctly.
  • Release 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 silence it.

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

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 swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function is applicable.

Carry out 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 hear a beep or observe a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

What do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

Listen to these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You won't always be able to recognize 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 can, open windows and doors on your way out to help dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • Don't assume 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 source may still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will enter 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 reappearing.

Get Support from Wesley Wood Service Experts

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

The team at Wesley Wood Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as excess 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 Wesley Wood Service Experts for more information.

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