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, however it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. As a result, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, a larger fatality rate versus any other kind of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. This is when the threat of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in a variety of ways. One of the most efficient methods is to install CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO detectors.

What produces carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Therefore, this gas can appear when a fuel source is ignited, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

  • 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
  • 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 sense carbon monoxide?

No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they start an alarm when they detect a certain amount of smoke generated by a fire. Possessing functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.

Smoke detectors come in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection is ideal with quick-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detectors are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both types of alarms in a solitary unit to maximize the chance of responding to a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally important home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and find an alarm of some kind, you may not realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy is determined by the brand and model you have. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Most devices are clearly labeled. If not, try to find 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 a decade old, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are two-in-one, sensing 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 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 need is dependent on your home’s size, the number of stories and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to ensure total coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors nearby sleeping areas: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces have to run constantly to keep your home heated. Therefore, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, a single alarm is enough.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of an attached garage door: Many people accidentally leave their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor right inside the door—and in the room over the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly pushed up by the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is best 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 give off a small, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it could give off false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, don't install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may recommend monthly tests and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm begins chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector outright after 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

All it takes is a minute to test your CO alarm. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, understanding that testing practices this general procedure:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It will sometimes take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • 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 let go of the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to quiet it.

Replace the batteries if the unit fails to perform as expected after the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector immediately.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit once the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after replacing the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms 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 see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

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

Use these steps to safeguard your home and family:

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You won't always be able to identify dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating correctly when it goes off.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to help thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or your local fire department and inform them that the carbon monoxide alarm has gone off.
  • Don't 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 source might still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and establish if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you will sometimes need to arrange repair services to keep the problem from recurring.

Seek Support from Sunbeam Service Experts

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

The team at Sunbeam Service Experts is qualified 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— including 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 Sunbeam Service Experts for more information.

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