Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work

How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

If you've had a smoke detector in your home before, you know how much of a factor they can be in whether you survive a house fire. While they have their uses, they're not the only type of “detector” you need in your home.

Carbon monoxide detectors are not only important to have in your home, but they're an absolute necessity if you have gas appliances or any type of appliance that burns fuel.

How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

Most of us at some point have heard the expression that carbon monoxide is a silent killer. That's because when there is carbon monoxide present in your home or even in your car, you can't see it, smell it, taste it or even feel it until it is too late.

Every year thousands of people are made sick due to carbon monoxide being present in their home. Up to 500 people a year are even killed by it. Poisoning by this silent killer is more prone to happen during cold winter months than at any other time because of keeping the home more tightly closed off and heating issues from fuel fed units.

Heating systems or space heaters that use fuel like kerosene and gas can emit carbon monoxide. Electric heaters do not put out carbon monoxide unless they catch on fire. Boilers and furnaces that use fuel are the biggest producers of carbon monoxide when they have a leak going on somewhere inside the unit. This is why it is very important to have your heating system checked each year before you use it again when the weather turns cold. Even a wood burning fireplace or stove can give off carbon monoxide when it is not working properly.

A plain old smoke detector is not the same as a carbon monoxide detector. They are completely different things. However, there are detectors available today that can detect both smoke and carbon monoxide, but you have to be sure and purchase one that will pick up both if you want to kill two birds with one stone so to speak.

What are the Symptoms of CO poisoning?

There are a number of symptoms that can alert you to possible CO poisoning.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or Confusion
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Chest Pains
  • Blurry Vision

Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, dizziness, muscle weakness, fainting, shortness of breath, drowsiness with confusion, blurry vision, chest pains and even seizures can occur when you have been exposed to carbon monoxide. Infants and small pets can show these signs the soonest.

Of course, these symptoms can be associated with many other sicknesses as well, but when you are experiencing one or more symptoms, it is something you should check out right away even if your CO detector has not yet sounded an alarm. Even small amounts of CO can cause sickness. When exposed to a large amount of CO, it can displace the oxygen in your body causing your brain and other organs to not get the oxygen they need. When someone has been exposed to enough CO, it can cause you to pass out and possibly suffocate before you are revived. If you or anyone in your home is exposed to CO, get medical attention immediately.

There Are Different Types of CO Detectors

Although the CO detectors listed below are designed differently, they are all made to do the same thing. They can prevent you and your family from becoming sickened or even killed by carbon monoxide. The detectors can be wired into your electrical system or you can buy the ones that simply plug into an electrical outlet or just use batteries. However, even the electric detectors still need to have batteries that are working as back up just in case your power goes out.

Electrochemical sensor: This unit will alarm when electrodes in a chemical solution pick up on changes in the electrical current once it senses carbon monoxide. This unit by Kidde is an electrochemical sensor that plugs into a wall outlet and has a battery backup. Most carbon monoxide detectors are electrochemical.

Metal oxide semi conductor: This unit will alarm when a silica chip inside has it's electrical resistance lowered because it has detected carbon monoxide. These units must be plugged into a wall outlet in your home, unlike other units that run on batteries alone.

Biomimetic sensor: This unit will sound an alarm when a gel inside changes color because it has detected carbon monoxide. When moved to an area that is absent of CO, it will reset and become usable again. These are also available as cards that can be placed at eye level in aircraft that do not sound an alarm.

Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Detect Natural Gas?

If you use natural gas to heat your home, a carbon monoxide detector will not alert you to a natural gas leak. Even though natural gas does not have any odor, gas companies often use an additive that gives it a specific odor that most of us can recognize. It has the smell of rotten eggs that is not easy to miss, unlike carbon monoxide that you can not smell at all.

While a simple carbon monoxide detector does not detect natural gas, there are units available that can detect both. It's very important to make sure you know what your detectors can do and don't do when you buy them.

Who Needs A Carbon Monoxide Detector?

Even though every home may not need a carbon monoxide detector, it is still a good idea to have one anyway. Those homes that definitely need at least one or more carbon monoxide detectors are those that have any type of appliances or heating systems that burn fuel.

If you have a fireplace or a wood burning stove in your home and you use it, you need a CO detector. If your power goes out in the winter and you intend to use a gas burning generator to provide you with temporary power, never put it inside the home. Always place it outside.

If you have a garage and you heat your car up in the winter, you need one too. It's never a good idea to leave your car running in a closed garage. If the garage is attached to your home, it is an even worse idea. Just a little CO can make you feel sick. CO detectors are very reasonably priced, so there really is no reason to not have at least one in your home.

Where To Place A Carbon Monoxide Detector

It is always important to follow the specific instructions that should come with your CO detector. Some work best at 5ft above the floor and combination detectors may need to be placed higher up close to the ceiling so they can do all their monitoring well. Do not place detectors in high humidity areas like near a bathroom. You don't want them placed near air vents or where windows and doors are opened frequently.

They should be placed where temperatures are mid range, not below 40 degrees or above 100 degrees, but somewhere in between. Place your CO detectors near sleeping areas like bedrooms or hallways near bedrooms. Place them at least 10 feet away from those appliances or heaters that can emit CO. If you have a furnace in the basement, place one down there too. It's a good idea to have one in your kitchen as well. Logically, anywhere you place a smoke detector, you can also have a CO detector.

How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Do I Need?

Of course, as stated before, every home needs at least one CO detector. How many you really need depends on the size of your home and how many possible sources of CO that you have. You should have at least one on every floor or your home, including the basement, garage and maybe even in your attic.

How Long Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Last

Under normal circumstances, most makers of CO detectors recommend that they be changed out every 5 -7 years. While some brands suggest every 5 years, others say 6 or 7. To always be on the safe side, it's best to change them every 5 years.

How To Test A Carbon Monoxide Detector

You should check the batteries in your detector and it's alarm every 6 months to ensure they are always working even if you have them plugged into or wired into your electrical. You never know when the power might go out in the middle of the night and you always want to be protected.

You can test the alarm itself by simply holding down the test button until it beeps. However, this only ensures that the alarm will sound. To be completely sure the unit will still detect CO, you can use a lit cigarette or a burning incense stick and hold either one near the detector to see if it goes off. There are also CO detector test kits that you can purchase that are even more accurate and simple to use.

How Much Is A Carbon Monoxide Detector?

For the price you have to pay for carbon monoxide detectors for your home, they are worth their weight in gold if they protect your family from this deadly killer. Most CO detectors can be purchased from between $20 and $50 dollars.

Of course, if you decide to purchase detectors that need to be wired into your electrical system, then the you will have to add the cost of that installation. Unless you are a certified electrician, it's probably best to hire a professional to do this job for you just so know it is done correctly. The cost of the detector plus installation fees could run as high as $150 or more depending on how many units you are having installed.