Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

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

When the weather cools down, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO alarms.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas is produced whenever a fuel source is ignited, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning 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. In fact, they start an alarm when they detect a certain amount of smoke generated by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors include 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 important home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you won't always know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is based on the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to remember:

  • Most devices are visibly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be difficult to tell if there's 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 dependent on your home’s size, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most likely at night when furnaces are running constantly to keep your home heated. For that reason, every bedroom 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, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Add detectors on all floors:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people end up leaving their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even when the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm just inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors up against the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This breaks up quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it might give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in harsh 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 might recommend monthly testing and resetting to sustain 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 begins chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely 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, knowing that testing follows this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is working 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.

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

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need 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 other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function is applicable.

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, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Listen to these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to detect hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is functioning correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • 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 creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to stop the problem from reappearing.

Find Support from Atmostemp Service Experts

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter arrives.

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

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