Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, however it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools down, you insulate your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to keep warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most effective methods is to install CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to reap the benefits of your CO sensors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Because of this, this gas is generated when a fuel source is burned, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue during an active 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 detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Alternatively, they start an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors include both forms of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally 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 contrast depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Quality devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You should also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell if there's no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home?

The number of CO alarms you need is determined by your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home warm. As a result, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is adequate.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor just inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from extreme 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, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer will sometimes recommend monthly testing and resetting to sustain 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 begins chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector outright after 10 years or according to 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, with the knowledge that testing follows this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • 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 keeps beeping when you let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to stop it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit won't work as expected during 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 after the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual should 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 get a beep or observe a flash, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is working correctly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly 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 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 might help air it out, but the root cause could still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to request repair services to keep the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Midway Services

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of 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 Midway Services is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs indicate a likely carbon monoxide leak— like 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 Midway Services for more information.