Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases found in the home. Known as the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, but it can result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

As the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can defend your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Try this guide to better 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 incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas can appear anytime a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged 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 running in the garage

Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?

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

Smoke detectors come in two primary modes—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. Some newer smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both essential home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you won't always recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Quality devices are properly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell with no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors should I install in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have is dependent on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to provide thorough coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces must run more often to keep your home warm. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed about 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on each floor:
    Concentrated 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 all floors.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people unsafely leave their cars on in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s often carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors close to the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with 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 give off a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it may lead to false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in strong 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 will sometimes suggest testing once a month and resetting to sustain proper functionality. Also, swap 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 outright after 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO alarm. Review the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is working correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two short 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 for the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after running a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms 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 notice a beep or observe a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If it’s still not working, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Follow these steps to take care of your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You may not be able to notice unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your 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 beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source might still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, assess 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 may need to request repair services to prevent the problem from reappearing.

Seek Support from Becht/Givens Service Experts

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

The team at Becht/Givens Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs suggest a potential carbon monoxide leak— including increased 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 Becht/Givens Service Experts for more information.

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