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, yet it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you close up your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to keep warm. This is where the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Thankfully you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most effective methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO sensors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Therefore, this gas is generated whenever a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:

  • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle idling 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 start an alarm when they sense a certain concentration of smoke generated by a fire. Installing reliable smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with fast-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in one unit to boost the chance of responding to a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally essential home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you won't always know whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are some factors to remember:

  • Some devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find 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 older than 10 years, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device should be labeled saying as much.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to tell without a label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

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, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas poisoning is most likely at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home comfortable. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Add detectors on all floors:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on each floor.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: Many people unsafely leave their cars on in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even while the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to air, but it’s often carried along with the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Put in detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high 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 design, the manufacturer may recommend monthly tests and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector outright after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need a minute to test your CO sensor. Read the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, with the knowledge that testing practices this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is operating correctly.
  • Release 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 silence it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t make a difference, 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 changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can 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 observe a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance 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 disregard the alarm. You won't always be able to recognize dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is working properly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the source could still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will search your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you might need to request repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Get Support from Matz-Rightway

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter starts.

The team at Matz-Rightway is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand 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 resolve them.

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

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