Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that is both odorless and colorless. It is generated as a byproduct of combustion from:
  • Natural gas and propane appliances such as stoves, water heaters, space heaters, and furnaces.
  • Gasoline and diesel engines found on cars, boats, and generators.
  • Wood fireplaces and gas inserts.
  • Fires and other forms of combustion.
Since carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, the alarm from a CO detector is to only way to know if you are being exposed before it’s too late. CO detectors can be either battery-powered or plug directly into a wall outlet. Combination units are also available that contain both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in a single unit.

The Importance of Carbon Monoxide Alarms

homeowner setting a carbon monoxide alarm
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A carbon monoxide (CO) alarm is an essential home safety tool. It’s designed to detect carbon monoxide — a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is the by-product of combustion. Using a carbon monoxide alarm is the only way to detect the presence of dangerous gas. Some of the most likely reasons for a buildup of carbon monoxide in the home include:
    • Blockages in the chimney
    • Improper installation of heating systems
    • Running cars in an attached garage
    • Unvented gas appliances
Detecting high levels of carbon monoxide in your home is as critical as fire safety. Exposure to carbon monoxide may lead to poisoning, which has long-term debilitating effects and can be fatal.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by inhaling combustion fumes, prevents oxygen from reaching your organs and tissues. Multiple fuel-burning appliances and engines common in the home produce carbon monoxide, though generally not in concerning amounts. However, carbon monoxide can reach dangerous levels if used improperly, like a camp stove in an enclosed space. If exposed to carbon monoxide in dangerous amounts, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
    • Chest pain
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness
    • Headache
    • Vomiting
    • Weakness
Unaddressed, carbon monoxide poisoning may result in brain damage, cardiac damage, or death. Though its effects can be grave, carbon monoxide poisoning is easily prevented with properly placed carbon monoxide alarms.

Recommendations for Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement

male homeowner installing a CO alarm
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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the placement of carbon monoxide detectors is crucial. With proper placement, you won’t get false alarms, and you’ll be alerted when you need to be. According to our research, you should:
    • Place CO alarms near sleeping areas. Placing alarms within 10 feet of a bedroom will ensure that anyone sleeping is woken up if high levels of carbon monoxide are detected.
    • Install a CO detector on each level of your home. According to the International Association of Fire Chiefs, installing a CO detector on every level of your home is the best practice for detecting and alerting high levels of carbon monoxide.
    • Install CO alarms near an attached garage. It’s best to open the garage door before starting any engine but installing a CO detector near an attached garage is an extra layer of protection.
    • Install CO detectors at an appropriate height. Unlike the placement of a smoke detector, installing a CO detector anywhere on the wall between 5 feet above the floor and 6 inches below the ceiling is recommended. You should install detectors with digital readouts at eye level.
    • Not install detectors near a fuel-burning appliance. Many fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves and water heaters, emit a small amount of carbon monoxide when igniting, which may trigger a false alarm.
    • Not install CO alarms in bathrooms or humid areas. A CO alarm unit’s electronic and digital component could be damaged and malfunction if exposed to moisture.
Having at least one carbon monoxide detector in the home is a safe practice. In some states, it’s even required by law.

How To Install CO Alarms

Once you’ve determined where to place carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, you’ll need to install them. While each manufacturer’s instructions will dictate specific installation methods, these are the general steps:
    1. Drill holes and attach the mounting bracket to the wall.
    1. Install new batteries or connect to a power source.
    1. Test the functioning — it should sound an alarm.
    1. Attach the CO alarm to the mounting bracket.
Most homeowners should be able to install carbon monoxide detectors easily. It requires about the same level of skill as installing a smoke alarm. Generally, installation only requires a few common tools and a little bit of time. Regardless, don’t skip the crucial step of testing the unit once it’s connected to power. Testing your CO detector helps ensure it will function when needed.

Types of CO Detectors

There are different types of carbon monoxide detectors on the market. All CO detectors are manufactured to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards. We’ve outlined some of each type’s key advantages and disadvantages below.
Type Pros Cons
Battery Easy to install, and works in a power outage Batteries need to be replaced often
Hardwired Can link multiple units together Loses function in a power outage
Plug-in Affordable and easily available Plugs are often not ideal installation heights
Within each of these categories, there is a range of technology, pricing, and features. While the most basic models will alert you to dangerous carbon monoxide levels, others have more advanced technology. For example, some smart home detectors are combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and can alert you while you’re out of the house. They can also give you an exact readout of CO levels within the house or instructions on moving to safety.

What To Do if Carbon Monoxide Is Detected in Your Home

technician checking CO level on a gas water heater exhaust
Image Source: Canva
If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, it’s important to take it seriously. Ignoring an alarm can lead to grave consequences. If CO is detected in your home, you should do the following:
    1. Call 911 or the fire department.
    1. Find fresh air immediately. Either go outside or stand near open windows and wait for emergency services to arrive.
    1. Call a technician to identify the source of carbon monoxide and make sure appliances and equipment are functioning properly.
    1. Remediate any problems immediately.
Getting to safety is the priority if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off. It’s also important to prevent future danger by fixing any issues that may have caused an alarm to sound in the first place.

Closing Thoughts

Undetected carbon monoxide can have deadly consequences. Proper placement of carbon monoxide detectors in your home can help reassure your and your family’s well-being and be life

Further Reading

Editorial Contributors
Danny Lipford

Danny Lipford

Founder

Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio, TodaysHomeowner.com, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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