Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Ultimate Guide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most hazardous gases found in the home. Known as the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, yet it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die of accidental carbon monoxide influence each year, a larger fatality rate versus other types of poisoning.

When the weather cools down, you close up your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to keep warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from a gas leak in several ways. One of the most efficient methods is to put in CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to reap the benefits of your CO sensors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Therefore, this gas can appear whenever a fuel source is ignited, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Common causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:

  • Overloaded clothes dryer vent
  • Malfunctioning water heater
  • Furnace or boiler with a damaged heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Improperly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting in the garage
  • Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running 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 recognize a certain amount of smoke generated by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two basic modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-growing fires that emit large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. A few smoke detectors include both kinds of alarms in one unit to increase the chance of recognizing a fire, regardless of how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both essential home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you won't always realize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual difference depends on the brand and model you want. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Most devices are clearly 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 more than 10 years old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that use power through an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide detectors94. The device will be labeled so.
  • Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a separate indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough to tell if there's no label on the front, so reviewing the manufacturing details on the back is worthwhile.

How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have depends on your home’s size, the number of stories and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to guarantee thorough coverage:

  • Add carbon monoxide detectors around sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most likely at night when furnaces are running constantly to keep your home warm. Therefore, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed within 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is enough.
  • Put in detectors on each floor:
    Dense carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so make sure you have at least one CO detector on all floors.
  • Put in detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars running in the garage, producing 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 increased carbon monoxide levels within your home.
  • Have detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors up against the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
  • Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but when a CO detector is positioned too close, it might give off false alarms.
  • Put in detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To minimize false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide sensor?

Depending on the model, the manufacturer will sometimes encourage testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery once a year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

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

  • Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to begin.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two quick beeps, a flash or both. If the device keeps beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to silence it.

Change the batteries if the unit isn't performing as expected during the test. If replacement batteries don’t change anything, replace the detector entirely.

How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm

You only need to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after running a test or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while other models require a manual reset. The instruction manual will 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 get a beep or see a flash, start the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or install a new detector.

What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

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

  • Do not disregard the alarm. You might not be able to recognize unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating properly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets as quickly as possible. If you're able to, open windows and doors on your way out to help thin out the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Don't assume 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 source might still be generating carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders arrive, they will go into your home, evaluate carbon monoxide levels, check 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 schedule repair services to stop the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Winnipeg Supply 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 worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter starts.

The team at Winnipeg Supply Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair problems with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs could mean a likely 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 Winnipeg Supply Service Experts for more information.

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