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. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

As the weather gets colder, you close up your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Thankfully you can defend your family from a gas leak in a variety of ways. One of the most efficient methods is to add CO detectors in your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to reap the benefits of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. As a result, this gas can appear when a fuel source is ignited, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly 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 recognize carbon monoxide?

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

Smoke detectors come in two basic modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors include both types of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, no matter how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you might not realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to remember:

  • Quality devices are visibly 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 draw power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device should be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to tell with no label on the front, so reviewing 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 need is dependent on your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to guarantee total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home heated. Therefore, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is adequate.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Have detectors at the appropriate 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 near the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines produce a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but if a CO detector is positioned too close, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer might suggest monthly testing and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 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 alarm. Read the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, understanding that testing follows this general process:

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

Swap out the batteries if the unit won't work as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only have to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after running a test or after replacing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can 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 get 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 replace the detector.

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

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to recognize hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is operating 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 the local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Do not assume 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 show up, they will enter your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to request repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Get Support from Broad Ripple Service Experts

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

The team at Broad Ripple Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a possible carbon monoxide leak— including increased 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 Broad Ripple Service Experts for more information.

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