Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

While the weather cools down, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors around your home. Try this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to make the most of your CO sensors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. As a result, this gas is produced whenever a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Clogged clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly 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 detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they start an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors include both forms of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both beneficial 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 difference depends on the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to remember:

  • Some 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 should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough to tell without a label on the front, so checking 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 depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and the number of bedrooms. Follow these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors around sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces have to run more often to keep your home warm. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate.
  • Install detectors on each floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: Many people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm just inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Put in detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Installing detectors near the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Add detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it might give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

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 twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm is chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO alarm. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, knowing that testing uses this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two fast 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.

Change the batteries if the unit won't work as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models need 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 notice a beep or see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

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

Follow these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You might not be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is functioning 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 help dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your 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 running. Opening windows and doors might 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 figure out if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to schedule repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Rolf Griffin Service Experts

With the right precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter gets underway.

The team at Rolf Griffin Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— such as excessive 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 Rolf Griffin Service Experts for more information.

chat now widget box