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, 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 steeper fatality rate versus any other kind of poisoning.

As the weather gets colder, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to keep warm. This is where the threat of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors in your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to take full advantage of your CO alarms.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. As a result, this gas is produced whenever a fuel source burns, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly 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. Alternatively, they start an alarm when they recognize a certain level of smoke caused by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are available in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Obviously, 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 might not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is determined by the brand and model you prefer. Here are several factors to remember:

  • Quality devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that draw power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device will be labeled as such.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be hard to tell with no label on the front, so double checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

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, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to provide total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby bedrooms: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home warm. Therefore, each bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate.
  • Install detectors on every floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide buildup 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 the internal garage door: Many people unsafely leave their cars on in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even while the large garage door is completely open. A CO detector right inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
  • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide features a weight similar to 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 located at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize 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 alarm?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer may suggest monthly testing 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 outright every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
  • Loud beeping indicates the detector is operating 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 quiet it.

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

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You're only required to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms need a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function is applicable.

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 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 support from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

Listen to these steps to protect your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to notice unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating properly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to try and dilute the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm is no longer beeping. Opening windows and doors may help air it out, but the root cause could still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you may need to arrange repair services to keep the problem from reappearing.

Find Support from Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts

With the right precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, namely as winter arrives.

The team at Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We understand what signs could mean a possible 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 Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts for more information.

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