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, but it can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Consequently, more than 400 people die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate versus other types of poisoning.

While the weather cools off, you seal your home for the winter and rely on heating appliances to stay warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. The good news is you can protect your family from a gas leak in different ways. One of the most successful methods is to put in CO detectors throughout your home. Check out this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide can appear from and how to make the most of your CO sensors.

What generates carbon monoxide in a house?

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct whenever something combusts. Because of this, this gas is generated whenever a fuel source is burned, 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 cracked heat exchanger
  • Closed fireplace flue with a lit fire
  • Poorly vented gas or wood stove
  • Vehicle sitting 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. Instead, they begin an alarm when they recognize a certain level 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 are offered in two basic forms—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection functions well with quick-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detection is more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. Some newer smoke detectors come with both types of alarms in one unit to maximize the chance of sensing a fire, no matter how it burns.

Clearly, smoke detectors and CO alarms are both essential home safety devices. If you look up at the ceiling and see an alarm of some kind, you may not recognize whether it’s a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide alarm. The visual discrepancy depends on the brand and model you want. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Some devices are properly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and locate it online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
  • Plug-in devices that extract power with an outlet are almost always carbon monoxide sensors94. The device is supposed to be labeled so.
  • Some alarms are really two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. Nevertheless, it can be tough to tell with no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is smart.

How many carbon monoxide detectors will I want in my home?

The number of CO alarms you should have is determined by your home’s size, number of floors and the number of bedrooms. Consider these guidelines to provide thorough coverage:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors around bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces are running frequently to keep your home warm. As a result, each bedroom 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, one detector is adequate.
  • Add detectors on each floor:
    Dangerous carbon monoxide gas can become trapped on a single floor of your home, so do your best to have at least one CO detector on every level.
  • Have detectors within 10 feet of your internal garage door: A surprising number of people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, resulting in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even while the large garage door is completely open. A CO alarm immediately inside the door—and in the room above the garage—alerts you of heightened carbon monoxide levels inside your home.
  • Put in detectors at the correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Putting in detectors close to the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that come with digital readouts are best placed at eye level to make them easier to read.
  • Add detectors at least 15 feet from combustion appliances: Some fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This dissipates quickly, but in situations where a CO detector is nearby, it could give off false alarms.
  • Have detectors away from high heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To limit false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in direct sunlight, around air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.

How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide detector?

Depending on the design, the manufacturer may encourage monthly testing and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, replace the batteries in battery-powered units after 6 months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery annually or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever starts 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

You only need a minute to test your CO detector. Check the instruction manual for directions unique to your unit, with the knowledge that testing follows this general routine:

  • Press and hold the Test button. It might need 5 to 20 seconds for the alarm to go off.
  • Loud beeping means the detector is functioning correctly.
  • Release the Test button and wait for two short 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 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 have to reset your unit when the alarm goes off, after testing the device or after swapping the batteries. A few models automatically reset themselves in 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function applies.

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 wait for a beep, a flash or both.

If you don’t hear a beep or observe a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If that doesn't help either, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with support from the manufacturer, or get rid of the faulty detector.

What can I do if a carbon monoxide alarm starts?

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

  • Do not ignore the alarm. You won't always be able to recognize hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is operating correctly when it starts.
  • Evacuate all people and pets immediately. If you can, open windows and doors on your way out to try and weaken the concentration of CO gas.
  • Call 911 or a local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has triggered.
  • Do not 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 could still be producing carbon monoxide.
  • When emergency responders show up, they will enter your home, assess carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to come back inside. Depending on the cause, you might need to request repair services to keep the problem from returning.

Seek Support from San Antonio Air Service Experts

With the appropriate precautions, there’s no need to worry about carbon monoxide inhalation in your home. Along with installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter starts.

The team at San Antonio Air Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair issues with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We recognize which signs could mean a likely carbon monoxide leak— such as increased 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 San Antonio Air Service Experts for more information.

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