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, yet it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a steeper fatality rate compared to any other kind of poisoning.

As the weather cools down, you insulate your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to remain warm. These situations are when the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in several ways. One of the most efficient methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Try this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to take full advantage of your CO sensors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. As a result, this gas can appear when a fuel source is burned, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Clogged 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 running 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. In fact, they begin an alarm when they detect a certain level of smoke generated by a fire. Having dependable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Unmistakably, 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 might not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Some devices are properly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against 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 double checking 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 should have depends on your home’s size, number of floors and the number of bedrooms. Use these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most prevalent at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home heated. As a result, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is sufficient.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Concentrated 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: Many people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm just inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having 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 sure they're easy to read.
  • Install detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines produce a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This dissipates quickly, but if a CO detector is nearby, it might trigger false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, avoid installing 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 design, the manufacturer will sometimes encourage testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might 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 quick 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 silence it.

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after replacing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other models need a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function applies.

Use 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 hear a beep or observe a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

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

Follow these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume 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 help thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Don't assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the source might still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to stop the problem from recurring.

Seek Support from TML Service Experts

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

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

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