Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases 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. As a result, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year, a higher fatality rate than other types of poisoning.

As the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. The good news is you can safeguard your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to reap the benefits of your CO sensors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

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

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Faulty water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue while a fire is lit
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting 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 start an alarm when they recognize a certain amount of smoke caused by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two primary forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both kinds of alarms in a single unit to boost the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both important home safety devices. If you check the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize 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 keep in mind:

  • Most devices are clearly labeled. If not, look for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell with no 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 require depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to guarantee total coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home comfortable. As a result, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed around 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is adequate.
  • Install detectors on all floors:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become caught on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Install detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A surprising number of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best placed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines produce a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it might give off false alarms.
  • Install detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer will sometimes encourage testing once a month and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • 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 quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues 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 isn't performing as expected for the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, 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 a test or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual should note which function is applicable.

Follow 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 hear a beep or see a flash, attempt 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?

Use these steps to take care of your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You may not be able to identify hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is operating correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to try and thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or the local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • 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 producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, try to find 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 keep the problem from returning.

Find Support from Church Services

With the right precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter arrives.

The team at Church Services is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs suggest a likely carbon monoxide leak— including increased 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 Church Services for more information.