Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk 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 die of accidental carbon monoxide influence each year, a steeper fatality rate versus other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools off, 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. Fortunately you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to take full advantage of your CO detectors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of something burned. Therefore, this gas is generated anytime a fuel source is burned, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Broken down water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a broken 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 detect carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they start an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke caused by a fire. Possessing dependable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric models are more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in a solitary unit to maximize the chance of recognizing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally beneficial home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you might not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual contrast depends on the brand and model you have. Here are several factors to remember:

  • Most devices are clearly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it right away.
  • Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be hard to tell without a label on the front, so reviewing 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 need depends on your home’s size, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Use these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home warm. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is adequate.
  • Put in detectors on every floor:
    Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: A lot of people accidentally leave their cars running in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if 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 elevated carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Install detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best located at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Add detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a small, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it may give off false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer might suggest monthly testing and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, change out the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO sensor. Read the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, knowing that testing follows this general routine:

  • 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 functioning correctly.
  • Let go of the Test button and wait for two short 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 quiet it.

Change 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're only required to reset your unit when 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 others require a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function you should use.

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 it’s still not working, 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 is triggered?

Listen to these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to recognize hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is working correctly when it is triggered.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • It's wrong to think it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops beeping. Opening windows and doors might help air it out, but the root cause may still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will search 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 schedule repair services to stop the problem from reappearing.

Seek Support from BW/Cook Service Experts

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s crucial to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter gets underway.

The team at BW/Cook Service Experts is happy to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs suggest a likely carbon monoxide leak— like excess soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to prevent them.

Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact BW/Cook Service Experts for more information.

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