What is the purpose of a carbon monoxide detector?

Dangers in a home aren’t limited to fires and natural disasters. Many dangers can come from within the home – and carbon monoxide is one of the biggest. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas produced by fuel combustion, including but not limited to gas stoves, generators, car exhaust, and poorly maintained combustion devices like furnaces and boilers. Exposure to carbon monoxide causes carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause vomiting, chest pain, dizziness, headaches, weakness, and even loss of consciousness and death if exposure is excessive. The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is detecting carbon monoxide before you’re exposed to it long enough for any of these symptoms to take place. Due to the invisible nature of this gas with no scent, special technology is required to detect it, in the form of carbon monoxide detectors. The purpose of a carbon monoxide detector is to prevent excessive exposure which can lead to poisoning.

How does a carbon monoxide detector work?

There are several types of carbon monoxide detectors with different sensors that will detect its presence in the air. There are several styles of carbon monoxide detectors: biomimetic sensor, metal oxide semiconductor, and electrochemical sensor. They may sound rather advanced, but they’re all simply methods in which a carbon monoxide detector picks up carbon monoxide in the air. Biomimetic sensors contain a color-changing gel that reacts to carbon monoxide; once it comes into contact with carbon monoxide, the gel changes colors, triggering the alarm. Metal oxide semiconductors contain a silica chip. When carbon monoxide is exposed to the circuitry of the silica chip, the electrical resistance is lowered and the alarm triggers. Finally, electrochemical sensors contain a chemical solution which senses changes in electrical currents. This current can be disrupted by carbon monoxide, and exposure will trigger the alarm. Regardless of method, carbon monoxide detectors will continue sounding the alarm until it is in a carbon monoxide-free environment.

How should a carbon monoxide detector be placed during install?

Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air and tends to to be found in warm, rising air. Because of this, mounting a carbon monoxide detector either on a wall five feet above the floor or at your ceiling is the suggested placement of carbon monoxide detectors. It’s recommended by the EPA to have one carbon monoxide detector for every floor of the house. The best places to put carbon monoxide detectors are near the sleeping areas, in order to ensure the alarm is loud enough to wake up anyone sleeping so they can evacuate the home upon the alarm going off. Avoid placing carbon monoxide detectors near fireplaces or other flame-producing appliances, as this can flag false positives in the alarm.

In the kitchen, avoid placing it near appliances like stoves, grills, and fireplaces; to avoid false alarms, CO detectors should be placed 5-20 feet away from these sources. Additionally, placing CO detectors in the basement is very important in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning due to the presence of many potential sources for CO being kept in the basement. Washers, dryers, water heaters and furnaces, just to name a few, can produce carbon monoxide. If your home has an attached garage, placing one in there is also recommended.

What do you do if your carbon monoxide detector goes off?

The most important thing to remember when your carbon monoxide detector goes off is to not ignore it. Assuming a false alarm could be the difference between getting out okay and getting carbon monoxide poisoning. Immediately vacate the premises and find fresh air. Call 911 and report your carbon monoxide detector has gone off. Emergency responders will arrive to check for the source of the carbon monoxide and determine when it’s safe for you to return.

Carbon monoxide detectors made after 2009 will sound a different kind of alarm to alert you of end of life – when the detector is beginning to die and needs replacing. Carbon monoxide detectors will not detect carbon monoxide while in end-of-life mode. In addition to the beep, carbon monoxide detectors with digital displays will display error codes. If it lacks this digital display, an easy way to check is by putting new batteries into the detector. If the beeping continues even with brand new batteries inserted, you’ll know your carbon monoxide detector is nearing the end of its life and needs to be replaced as soon as possible in order to protect the home again.

Why should you include a carbon monoxide detector in a fire alarm system?

Carbon monoxide detectors are a crucial part of any alarm system, protecting you against a threat that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors are not interchangeable – although combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors exist, a standard smoke detector will not detect carbon monoxide. As carbon monoxide is a tasteless, scentless gas, proper hardware is necessary in order to detect it. By the time you begin experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, you’ve been exposed to quantities of it for long enough that it’s already too late. In order to prevent illness and potentially death caused from carbon monoxide poisoning, installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout your fire alarm system is key.

Every home with at least one fuel-burning appliance, attached garage, or fireplace should have a carbon monoxide detector. Fire isn’t the only danger that needs to be detected to save your life.

Carbon monoxide detectors are a key component to any alarm system, providing an added level of safety not obtained through only having smoke detectors mounted throughout the house. As appliances like washers, dryers, hot water heaters and fuel-burning heating systems can cause carbon monoxide build-up in the home, it’s important to have these detectors placed in key areas in order to alert you when these buildups happen. In order to prevent buildups, however, it’s equally important to have your appliances regularly inspected and maintained – this will prevent carbon monoxide from building up even more.