Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas 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 influence each year, a steeper fatality rate versus any other type of poisoning.
When the weather cools down, you seal your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to remain warm. This is when the risk of carbon monoxide inhalation is highest. Thankfully you can safeguard your family from carbon monoxide in several ways. One of the most successful methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes from and how to make the most of your CO alarms.
What produces carbon monoxide in a house?
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. As a result, this gas can appear anytime a fuel source burns, like natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Prevalent 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
- Poorly 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 recognize a certain amount of smoke caused by a fire. Possessing reliable smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 55 percent.
Smoke detectors are offered in two main types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-growing fires that produce large flames, while photoelectric detection is more applicable for smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both forms of alarms in a single unit to maximize the chance of sensing a fire, regardless of how it burns.
Unmistakably, smoke detectors and CO alarms are similarly essential home safety devices. If you check 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 difference depends on the brand and model you prefer. Here are a few factors to consider:
- Quality devices are visibly labeled. If not, try to find a brand and model number on the back of the detector and find it online. You will also find a manufacture date. If the device is older than 10 years, replace it as soon as possible.
- Plug-in devices that extract power from an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device will be labeled saying as much.
- Some alarms will be two-in-one, detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide with a different indicator light for each. That being said, it can be hard to tell if there's no 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 require depends on your home’s size, number of floors and bedroom arrangement. Consider these guidelines to ensure complete coverage:
- Add carbon monoxide detectors around wherever people sleep: CO gas exposure is most prevalent at night when furnaces must run more often to keep your home warm. 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, just one detector is adequate.
- Install detectors on all floors:
Concentrated carbon monoxide gas can become stuck 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 the internal garage door: Many people unsafely leave their cars running in the garage, producing dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, even if the large garage door is wide open. A CO sensor just inside the door—and in the room up above the garage—alerts you of increased carbon monoxide levels entering your home.
- Put in detectors at the appropriate height: Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, but it’s frequently carried upward in the hot air created by combustion appliances. Having detectors near the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models with digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read.
- Put in detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: Certain fuel-burning machines emit a tiny, harmless amount of carbon monoxide at startup. This breaks up quickly, but in situations where 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 certain tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in strong sunlight, near air vents, or close to heat-generating appliances.
How do I test/troubleshoot a carbon monoxide alarm?
Depending on the design, the manufacturer might suggest 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 every year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever starts first. Then, replace the CO detector completely after 10 years or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
How to test your carbon monoxide alarm
You only need a minute to test your CO detector. Check the instruction manual for directions specific to your unit, with the knowledge 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 indicates the detector is operating correctly.
- Release the Test button and wait for two fast beeps, a flash or both. If the device continues beeping when you release the button, press and hold it again for five seconds to quiet it.
Change 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 once the alarm goes off, after a test or after replacing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves within 10 minutes of these events, while other alarms require a manual reset. The instruction manual will note which function you should use.
Follow 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 get a beep or observe a flash, try the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with help from the manufacturer, or replace the 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 disregard the alarm. You won't always be able to recognize hazardous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so assume the alarm is operating properly when it is triggered.
- Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to help dilute 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 stops running. Opening windows and doors can help air it out, but the source may still be producing carbon monoxide.
- When emergency responders show up, they will go into your home, measure carbon monoxide levels, try to find the source of the CO leak and determine if it’s safe to go back inside. Depending on the cause, you may need to schedule repair services to stop the problem from recurring.
Find Support from D.A. Bennett Service Experts
With the proper precautions, there’s no need to be afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Besides installing CO alarms, it’s important to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter starts.
The team at D.A. Bennett Service Experts is qualified to inspect, clean, diagnose and repair malfunctions with furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other combustion appliances. We know what signs could mean a potential carbon monoxide leak— including increased 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 D.A. Bennett Service Experts for more information.