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, 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 larger fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

When the weather gets colder, you insulate your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to install CO detectors throughout your home. Try this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to take full advantage of your CO sensors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is burned, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged 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. Alternatively, they start an alarm when they recognize a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly beneficial home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is determined by the brand and model you want. Here are a few 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 right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
  • 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 without a 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 should have is determined by your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors around sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces have to run frequently to keep your home warm. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed around 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Install detectors on each floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars on in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm right inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air released by combustion appliances. Installing detectors up against the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best located at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Install detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it could give off false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, around 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 testing once a month and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm is chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is functioning 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 stop it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit isn't performing 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 need to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after a test or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models require a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function you should use.

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 help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

What do I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Listen to these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is functioning properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and explain 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 can help air it out, but the source could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, check for the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to prevent the problem from recurring.

Get Support from Komfort Air Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter starts.

The team at Komfort Air Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know 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 Komfort Air Service Experts for more information.