Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Known as 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 suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate than any other kind of poisoning.

As the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors around 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 generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Because of this, this gas can appear whenever a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common 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 running in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment being used in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they sound an alarm when they sense a certain level of smoke caused by a fire. Having reliable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors include both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of 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 may not know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Some devices are visibly 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 older than 10 years, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be hard to tell if there's no label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you require depends on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most prevalent at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home comfortable. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous 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.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Having detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is positioned too close, it could trigger false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer may suggest monthly testing and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 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 detector. Check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping signifies the detector is operating correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick 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 quiet it.

Change the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after a test or after swapping the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others require 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 observe 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 install a new detector.

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

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

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You won't always be able to notice dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working correctly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, 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 explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the root cause may still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to schedule repair services to keep the problem from returning.

Find Support from Eveready Service Experts

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

The team at Eveready Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs indicate a likely carbon monoxide leak— such as increased soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to resolve them.

Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact Eveready Service Experts for more information.

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