Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially hazardous gas found in the home. Known as the “silent killer,” CO gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, yet it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage or death. Because of this, more than 400 people suffer fatal carbon monoxide exposure each year, a larger fatality rate compared to any other type of poisoning.
While the weather gets colder, you insulate your home for the winter and count on heating appliances to keep warm. This is where the danger of carbon monoxide exposure is highest. Thankfully you can protect your family from carbon monoxide in different ways. One of the most efficient methods is to add CO detectors around your home. Use this guide to help you understand where carbon monoxide comes 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 is produced when a fuel source burns, including natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal, gasoline, woo, and more. Frequent causes of carbon monoxide in a house may be:
- Blocked up clothes dryer vent
- Malfunctioning water heater
- Furnace or boiler with a broken heat exchanger
- Closed fireplace flue during an active fire
- Poorly vented gas or wood stove
- Vehicle running in the garage
- Portable generator, grill, power tool or lawn equipment running in the garage
Do smoke detectors sense carbon monoxide?
No, smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. In fact, they sound an alarm when they detect a certain concentration of smoke produced by a fire. Installing functional smoke detectors lowers the risk of dying in a house fire by about 55 percent.
Smoke detectors come in two primary types—ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization detection works best with fast-moving fires that generate large flames, while photoelectric detection is more effective with smoldering, smoky fires. The newest smoke detectors incorporate both forms of alarms in a solitary unit to boost the chance of recognizing a fire, despite how it burns.
Obviously, smoke detectors and CO alarms are equally essential home safety devices. If you inspect the ceiling and see 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 have. Here are several factors to remember:
- Most devices are clearly labeled. If not, check for a brand and model number on the back of the detector and look it up online. You can also find a manufacture date. If the device is more than a decade old, replace it at the earliest opportunity.
- Plug-in devices that extract power through an outlet are generally carbon monoxide alarms94. The device will be labeled so.
- Some alarms will be two-in-one, offering protection against both smoke and carbon monoxide with an indicator light for each. That being said, it can be difficult to tell if there's no label on the front, so checking the manufacturing details on the back is your best bet.
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, how many floors it has and bedroom arrangement. Follow these guidelines to ensure total coverage:
- Add carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms: CO gas poisoning is most common at night when furnaces are running constantly to keep your home warm. Therefore, every bedroom should have a carbon monoxide detector installed about 15 feet of the door. If multiple bedroom doors are less than 30 feet apart, one detector is sufficient.
- Install detectors on every floor:
Dangerous carbon monoxide buildup can become stuck on a single floor of your home, so try to have at least one CO detector on every level.
- Put in detectors within 10 feet of the internal garage door: A surprising number of people unsafely leave their cars idling in the garage, leading to dangerous carbon monoxide gas, even when the large garage door is fully open. A CO alarm immediately 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 correct height: Carbon monoxide is a similar density as air, but it’s commonly carried upward in the hot air released by combustion appliances. Having detectors up against the ceiling is best to catch this rising air. Models that include digital readouts are best installed at eye level to make them easier to read.
- Add detectors about 15 feet from combustion appliances: A few fuel-burning machines give off a tiny, non-toxic amount of carbon monoxide as they first start running. This disperses quickly, but when a CO detector is installed right next to it, it may lead to false alarms.
- Install detectors away from excess heat and humidity: Carbon monoxide detectors have specific tolerances for heat and humidity. To reduce false alarms, try not to install them in bathrooms, in strong 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 will sometimes encourage testing once a month and resetting to maintain proper functionality. Also, swap out the batteries in battery-powered units every six months. For hardwired units, replace the backup battery every year or when the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, replace the CO detector completely every 10 years or as outlined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.
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, with the knowledge that testing practices this general routine:
- Press and hold the Test button. It might 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 goes on beeping when you let go of 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 for the test. If replacement batteries don’t help, replace the detector immediately.
How to reset your carbon monoxide alarm
You only need to reset your unit after the alarm goes off, after a test or after changing the batteries. Certain models automatically reset themselves in under 10 minutes of these events, while others require a manual reset. The instruction manual can note which function you should use.
Use 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, attempt the reset again or replace the batteries. If nothing happens, troubleshoot your carbon monoxide alarm with assistance 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 dismiss the alarm. You may not be able to detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late, so expect the alarm is functioning correctly when it goes off.
- Evacuate all people and pets as soon as possible. If possible, open windows and doors on your way out to help weaken the concentration of CO gas.
- Call 911 or a local fire department and report that the carbon monoxide alarm has started.
- It's wrong to think 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 could still be generating carbon monoxide.
- When emergency responders come, they will search your home, assess 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 request repair services to stop the problem from returning.
Seek Support from Peitz Service Experts
With the right precautions, there’s no need to fear carbon monoxide exposure in your home. In addition to installing CO alarms, it’s worthwhile to maintain your fuel-burning appliances, particularly as winter starts.
The team at Peitz Service Experts is qualified 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— such as 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 Peitz Service Experts for more information.