Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Known as the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, yet it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate versus other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools down, you insulate your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. This is when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to take full advantage of your CO alarms.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Therefore, this gas is produced anytime a fuel source burns, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle running in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

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

Smoke detectors are available in two primary modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in one unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, no matter how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally essential home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy depends on the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Most devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find 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 older than 10 years, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are really 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 double checking the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

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, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home comfortable. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed about 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on all floors:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become caught on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people unsafely leave their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO detector immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best located at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is nearby, it could give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer may suggest testing once a month and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, replace 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 starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO detector. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, knowing that testing follows this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it.

Replace 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 once the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can 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 notice a beep or see a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, 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?

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to recognize dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating properly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to help dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the root cause may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, 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 will sometimes need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from recurring.

Find Support from Chief/Bauer Service Experts

With the right 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, especially as winter arrives.

The team at Chief/Bauer Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs could mean a likely carbon monoxide leak— including 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 Chief/Bauer Service Experts for more information.

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