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 result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate compared to other types of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you insulate your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to keep warm. These situations are when the risk of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Fortunately you can defend your family from a gas leak in a variety of ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Check out this guide to better understand where carbon monoxide is produced and how to make the most of your CO sensors.

What causes carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas can appear when a fuel source burns, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house include:

    • Blocked up clothes dryer vent
    • Broken down water heater
    • Closed fireplace flue during an active 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. Instead, they sound an alarm when they recognize a certain level of smoke caused by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors decreases the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.

Smoke detectors are offered in two main forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with fast-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric models are more suited for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors include both kinds of alarms in a single unit to increase the chance of sensing a fire, despite how it burns.

Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally essential home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and notice an alarm of some kind, you might not realize 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 a few factors to keep in mind:

    • Some devices are visibly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than 10 years old, replace it as soon as possible.
    • Plug-in devices that use power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide is supposed to be labeled so.
    • Some alarms are two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. Still, it can be tough to tell without a label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

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

The number of CO alarms you need is determined by your home’s size, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure thorough coverage:

    • Place carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas: CO gas exposure is most common at night when furnaces are running more often to keep your home heated. Therefore, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If two bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
    • Add detectors on all floors:
      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 each floor.
    • Have detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: Many people unsafely leave their cars running in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even while the large garage door is completely open. A CO sensor just inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of elevated carbon monoxide levels within your home.
    • Install detectors at the proper height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried along with the hot air created by combustion appliances. Installing detectors near the ceiling is ideal to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to keep them easy to read.
    • Put in detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it could lead to false alarms.
    • Have detectors away from extreme heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specified tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, don’t install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, next to air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?

Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer might suggest testing once a month and resetting to ensure proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units twice a year. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually 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 guidelines.

How to test your carbon monoxide alarm

It only takes a minute to test your CO alarm. Read the instruction manual for directions individual to your unit, knowing that testing uses this general procedure:

    • Press and hold the Test button. It may need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to start.
    • Loud beeping means the detector is functioning correctly.
    • Let go of the Test button and wait for two quick 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 silence it.

Swap out the batteries if the unit isn’t performing as expected during 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 when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after changing the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms need a manual reset. The instruction manual should 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 notice 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 help from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm is triggered?

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

    • Do not dismiss the alarm. You might not be able to identify unsafe levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is functioning correctly when it starts.
    • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to attempt to thin out the concentration of CO gas.
    • Call 911 or a local fire department and explain that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
    • Do not 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 may still be generating carbon monoxide.
    • When emergency responders arrive, they will enter your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and figure out if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to request repair services to prevent the problem from returning.

Seek Support from Winnipeg Supply Service Experts

With the proper precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide exposure in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter arrives.

The team at Winnipeg Supply Service Experts is ready to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs indicate 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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