Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas 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. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide influence each year, a higher fatality rate than any other type of poisoning.

While the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Fortunately you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most efficient 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 reap the benefits of your CO sensors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle running in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment operating in the garage

Do smoke detectors recognize carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. Instead, they begin an alarm when they recognize a certain amount of smoke produced by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with quick-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of sensing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly important home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you might not realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference is based on the brand and model you have. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Some devices are properly 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 more than a decade old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are typically carbon monoxide alarms94. 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 tough to tell without a label on the front, so 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 bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to provide complete coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home heated. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is completely open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Have detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same 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 that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but if a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may give off false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, around 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 testing once a month and resetting to sustain 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 starts chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO detector. Review the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, understanding that testing practices this general process:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating 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 isn't performing as expected after 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 changing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other models require a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function you should use.

Use 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 nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

Follow these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not dismiss the alarm. You won't always be able to detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is working properly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to help weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the root cause might still be creating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from reappearing.

Seek Support from Strogen's Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter starts.

The team at Strogen's Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs indicate a potential 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 Strogen's Service Experts for more information.

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