Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common risk found in the home. Nicknamed the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, but it can result in unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a steeper fatality rate versus any other kind of poisoning.
As the weather cools off, you close up your home for the winter and trust in heating appliances to stay warm. These situations are when the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is highest. Thankfully you can defend your family from carbon monoxide in different 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 take full advantage of your CO sensors.
What causes carbon monoxide in a house?
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Because of this, this gas is generated when a fuel source burns, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent causes of carbon monoxide in a house consist of:
- Overloaded clothes dryer vent
- Broken down water heater
- Furnace or boiler with a cracked heat exchanger
- Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
- Poorly vented gas or wood stove
- Vehicle idling 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. Alternatively, they sound an alarm when they detect a certain amount of smoke caused by a fire. Having functional smoke detectors reduces the risk of dying in a house fire by around 55 percent.
Smoke detectors are available in two main modes—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both kinds of alarms in a solitary unit to increase the chance of sensing a fire, regardless of how it burns.
Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both important home safety devices. If you inspect 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 contrast depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to consider:
- Quality 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 should also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it as soon as possible.
- Plug-in devices that use power with an outlet are generally carbon monoxide sensors94. The device should be labeled saying as much.
- Some alarms will be two-in-one, sensing both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Still, it can be difficult 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 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 bedrooms: CO gas leaks are most common at night when furnaces must run frequently to keep your home comfortable. For that reason, all bedrooms should have a carbon monoxide sensor installed about 15 feet of the door. If a couple of bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, just one detector is enough.
- Install detectors on all floors:
Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on all floors.
- Install detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people end up leaving their cars idling in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even while the large garage door is fully open. A CO sensor immediately inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels within your home.
- Put in detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s often carried along with the hot air produced by combustion appliances. Installing detectors close to the ceiling is a good way to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make sure they're easy to read.
- Install detectors around 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide when they start. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it might trigger false alarms.
- Put in detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, avoid installing them in bathrooms, in harsh sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.
How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?
Depending on the specific unit, the manufacturer will sometimes suggest monthly tests and resetting to maintain 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 is chirping, whichever happens first. Then, replace the CO detector entirely every 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
How to test your carbon monoxide alarm
You only need a minute to test your CO alarm. Review the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, understanding that testing follows this general routine:
- Press and hold the Test button. It may take 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
- Loud beeping indicates the detector is working correctly.
- Release the Test button and wait for two fast 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 stop it.
Swap out the batteries if the unit won't work 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 after the alarm goes off, after running a test or after swapping the batteries. Some models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function is applicable.
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 hear a beep or observe 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 get rid of the faulty detector.
What can 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 may not be able to identify hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so anticipate the alarm is working properly when it goes off.
- Evacuate all people and pets immediately. 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 the local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
- Do not assume it’s safe to reenter your home when the alarm stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source may still be generating carbon monoxide.
- When emergency responders come, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, look for the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to return. Depending on the cause, you might need to arrange repair services to prevent the problem from returning.
Seek Support from Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning
With the proper precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, especially as winter arrives.
The team at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs indicate a likely carbon monoxide leak— like excess soot, rusted flue pipes and a yellow, flickering burner flame—along with the necessary repairs to resolve them.
Do you still have questions or concerns about CO exposure? Is it time to schedule annual heating services? Contact Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning for more information.