Carbon Monoxide Detector: Best CO Alarms & Guide To The Silent Killer

24 November 2018Home Safety & Security

The United States does a good job with stopping preventable deaths due to carbon monoxide but we still could be doing better.

To give you some context, lets compare carbon monoxide deaths with mass shooting deaths.

Somehow our society has been dealing with more and more mass shootings. They happen way to frequently and take place in locations that we once thought as safe and even sacred such as schools and places of worship.

According to Mother Jones, in 2017, there were 117 deaths as a result of mass shootings defined as having at least four people wounded or killed.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you because of the media coverage (rightfully so).

But did you know that on average 374 deaths happen each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning? The CDC reports that between, 2010-2015 a total of 2244 unintentional carbon monoxide deaths have happened. The American Council on Science and Health did a great article on this topic if you are interested in more details.

So why doesn’t something that kills over 3x more people each year than mass shootings get more national media coverage?

I’m not sure, but perhaps that is just another reason why carbon monoxide is appropriately called “the silent killer”.

picture of an exclamation pointIf you want to learn more about carbon monoxide then keep reading through our detailed guide below or you can click here to jump to our recommended best carbon monoxide detectors.


picture of carbon and monoxide molecule

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

 
 
 
Carbon Monoxide or it’s scientific abbreviation CO, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless toxic gas that and is an asphyxiant or can cause unconsciousness or death by suffocation due to lack of oxygen.

This is the real reason why carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer.

Sound scary yet? I hope so because it can be very dangerous.

So where does carbon monoxide come from? CO gas is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon based fuels (fossil fuels).

Carbon Based Fuels Include:

  • Natural Gas
  • Propane
  • Methane
  • Oil
  • Kerosene
  • Gasoline
  • Diesel
  • Coal
  • Wood
  • Charcoal

There are a lot of common household appliances or engines that use these carbon based fuels that may or may not be used in or around your home that produce CO gas.

Carbon Based Fuel Appliances Or Engines That Produce CO Gas Include:

  • Heating Appliances
    • Boilers
    • Furnaces
    • Space Heaters
    • Fireplaces
    • Hot Water Heaters
    • Wood, Kerosene & Pellet Stoves
  • Cooking Appliances
    • Stoves & Ovens
    • Charcoal Grilles
  • Household Appliances
    • Clothes Dryers
  • Motor Vehicles & Engines
    • Cars, Trucks, SUVs & Motorcycles
    • Boats & Jet Skis
    • ATV’s
    • Snow Blowers
    • Lawn Mowers
    • Generators

If any of these sources of CO gas are used in and around your home (and you probably have at least one of them) you will want to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home.

 
picture of a man holding a sign that says why

Why Would I Want To Detect CO?

 
 
 
Everyday we inhale carbon monoxide that is in the air into our body in small amounts and typically is not a health hazard because the levels are so low.

However, when we inhale too much CO, typically in contained spaces such as inside a home, it becomes a big problem and can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If someone breathes in large amounts on CO into their body, it will begin to replace the oxygen in your blood with carbon monoxide. When this happens, you can become unconscious and can lead to death.

Yikes! Sounds extreme right? Well it is a big deal.

Which is why you should be familiar with the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

You should look out for symptoms that resemble having a cold or the flu. Which is another reason CO is so dangerous, because the symptoms can often times be overlooked or dismissed as a common cold.

You should pay attention to the symptoms disappearing if you leave your home and returning when you come back in. Also, if everyone in the home experiences the symptoms at the same time, that is another indication the CO levels could be increased and causing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Initial Symptoms of CO Poisoning May Include:

picture of a woman with co poisoning

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty Breathing
Later Symptoms of CO Poisoning Include:
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Brain Damage
  • Death

There is an increase in carbon monoxide poisoning in winter months with January being the deadliest month of all. This is because of the increased use of carbon fuel appliances and less ventilation with doors and windows being shut tight to keep the cold air out and unfortunately sometimes the CO gas in.

What To Do If You Suspect CO Gas In Your Home

  1. Immediately leave the home!
  2. Call 911
  3. Have the local fire department or a HVAC contractor come out and perform an emergency test of CO levels

Hopefully you will never find yourself in any of these situations. Which is why it is important, no… it’s critical to take some prevention steps to ensure you prevent CO poisoning from happen to you, your family or anyone else who comes into your home.

Pro Tip: Before having a CO detection emergency in your home, call your local fire department to find out exactly what number to call in the event of an emergency and make note of that number.
 

How To Prevent CO Poisoning:

  • Have heating systems, appliances, chimney flues & generators cleaned/serviced and checked yearly by licensed professionals.
  • Do not use your gas oven to heat your house.
  • Do not leave your fire burning or smoldering when going to bed. Make sure it is out completely.
  • Do not run your cars, lawn mowers, snow blowers, generators or any other gas powered equipment in any part of the house, including the garage, porch or basement. Even opening the windows or doors can still lead to increased levels of CO.
  • Do not use any alternative heating sources (ex: kerosene heater) inside the house or in the garage.
  • Use gas or charcoal grills outside only.
  • Both during and after snowstorms, clear the snow away from the vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace.
  • Have carbon fuel burning appliances installed by qualified professionals and operated according to manufacturers instructions.
  • Have heating system inspected & serviced yearly by a qualified professional, including checking proper exhaust ventilation from the chimney and flues.
  • Install CO detectors inside your home according to state or local laws or at least International Residential Code.

 
picture of the best co detector

Best Carbon Monoxide Detector

 
 
 
After reading that last section, I put the last bullet in bold for a reason. Installing carbon monoxide detectors is the #1 action you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

Surprisingly, only 41.6% of homes have a working carbon monoxide detector, according to a American Housing Survey.

So now let’s get into which carbon monoxide detectors you should purchase to protect your family from the silent killer.

Below are 4 types of CO detectors you can buy to detect and alert you of elevated levels in your home.

Types of CO Detectors & Alarms

  • Smart Carbon Monoxide Detectors – these are the most advanced and most expensive types of CO detectors. They have smartphone apps to control & monitor the device in real time, as well as notifications that get pushed directly to your phone. They can integrate into other smart home devices for complete control of your home.
  • Hardwired Carbon Monoxide Detectors – these are the most popular types of devices for new construction or if your home is already wired for the CO detectors. If your home doesn’t have the hard wiring installed already a licensed electrician can install for you. Look for battery backups for active monitoring and alerting in the event of a power outage.
  • Battery Operated Carbon Monoxide Detectors – these are a popular option for homes that don’t have hard wiring available or the homeowner doesn’t want to bother with running new wires throughout the home. Keep in mind a battery operated CO detector has a single point of failure if the batteries die.
  • Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detectors – these are similar to hard wired devices except they plug-in to any A/C wall outlet for their power. Look for plug-in CO detectors with battery backups to avoid a home without CO detection during a power outage.

 

Smart Carbon Monoxide Detectors

picture of a bedroom

Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide AlarmFirst Alert Onelink Safe & SoundLeeo Smart Alert Smoke/CO Remote Alarm Monitor
picture of nest co detector picture of First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound picture of Leeo Smart Alert Smoke/CO Remote Alarm Monitor
Rating:
Price
GENERAL FEATURES
Hard Wired, Battery, Plug-In Hard Wired + Battery Hard Wired Plug-In
Combo CO & Smoke Detector
SMART HOME FEATURES
WiFi Connectivity
iOS App
Android App
Remote Control
Notifications
Built-in Amazon Alexa
Apple HomeKit Integration
Built-in Premium Speaker
SAFETY STANDARDS CERTIFICATION
Underwriters Laboratories Certified
California State Fire Marshal Approved
 

Hardwired Carbon Monoxide Detectors

picture of a kitchen

First Alert Hardwired Carbon Monoxide (CO) + Smoke DetectorKidde Hardwired Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital DisplayKidde Hardwire Carbon Monoxide Alarm
picture of First Alert Hardwired Carbon Monoxide (CO) Smoke Detector picture of Kidde AC Hardwired Operated Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display KN-COP-IC picture of Kidde AC Hardwired Operated Carbon Monoxide Alarm  KN-COB-IC
Rating
Price
GENERAL FEATURES
Battery Backup
10 Year Sealed Battery Backup
Combo CO & Smoke Detector
Digital Display
Voice Alarm
Interconnectable
SAFETY STANDARDS CERTIFICATION
Underwriters Laboratories Certified
California State Fire Marshal Approved
 

Battery Operated Carbon Monoxide Detectors

picture of a dining room

Kidde 10 Year Sealed Lithium Battery Power Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital DisplayFirst Alert Battery Operated Smoke and Carbon Monoxide DetectorKidde Battery Operated Digital Display Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Kidde Sealed Lithium Battery Power Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display picture of First Alert SCO7CN Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector with Voice and Location Battery Operated Kidde Battery Operated Digital Display Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Rating
Price
GENERAL FEATURES
Combo CO & Smoke Detector
Digital Display
Voice Alarm
Interconnectable (All Battery Units Lack This Feature)
SAFETY STANDARDS CERTIFICATION
Underwriters Laboratories Certified
California State Fire Marshal Approved
 

Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detectors

picture of a living room

Kidde Nighthawk Plug-in Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display & Battery BackupFirst Alert Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detector with Battery Backup and Digital DisplayKidde Tamper Resistant Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup
picture of Kidde Nighthawk Plug-in Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display picture of First Alert Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detector with Battery Backup and Digital Display picture of Kidde Tamper Resistant Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup
Rating
Price
GENERAL FEATURES
Battery Backup
Combo CO & Smoke Detector
Digital Display
Voice Alarm
Interconnectable (All Plug-In Units Lack This Feature)
SAFETY STANDARDS CERTIFICATION
Underwriters Laboratories Certified
California State Fire Marshal Approved


 
picture of a man installing a co detector

Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement

 
 
Where you place your carbon monoxide detector may depend on if you follow your states specific recommendations or laws or you could follow the best practices below.

Where To Install CO Detectors/Alarms:

  • Install a CO detector within 10′ of each bedroom or sleeping area of the home. Typically in the hallway if the bedrooms are clustered together.
  • Install a CO detector inside any bedroom or sleeping area that has a fuel burning appliance.
  • Install at least one CO detector on each level of your home.
  • Install a CO detector at least 5-10′ from any carbon monoxide source.
  • Install a CO detector adjacent to the area or room containing the homes boiler, hot water heater, furnace or other carbon based heating appliance. Including the floor above and the floor below the appliance.
  • Install a CO detector inside the home near the door to an attached garage or car port.

Additionally, to installing the carbon monoxide detectors according the recommendations above. You will want to make sure they are not installed too close to windows or exterior doors to prevent not working correctly due to fresh air in that area of the home. Also, it is generally recommended to replace the CO detectors every 5-7 years to be on the safe side.

Finally, always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting heights.

 
picture of a stack of files and a gavel

Carbon Monoxide Detector Laws By State

 
Below, you can select the state you live in to see what the state officials have determined to be applicable for your home state, as well as links to additional state specific information.

Keep in mind, the state law does not limit a municipality, city or other local government entity from creating or enforcing any CO detector & alarm requirements that are more stringent than what you will see below for your state. It’s recommended to call your local building department or other local governing office to get the exact requirements.


 
picture of faqs

Carbon Monoxide & CO Detector FAQ

 

How many CO detectors do I need?

How many carbon monoxide detectors you need depends on many factors including, sources of CO, how many floors is in your home, if you have an attached garage, state and local laws, etc. We recommend you read our sections “Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement” and “Carbon Monoxide Detector Laws By State” to get an accurate answer for your situation.

Why is my CO detector making a chirping noise?

A chirping or beeping noise from your CO detector means a notification condition has been triggered. It could be because the detector has a low battery, reached end of life, malfunctioned, warning or an error. Please refer to the users manual for your device.

Should a CO detector be UL certified?

Yes. A UL certified CO detector will meet established criteria for high quality alarms. A UL certified device will only alert after levels have increased to over 30 ppm and will alert more frequently as higher thresholds are reached. Also, a UL certified device’s alarm will be at least 85 decibels to ensure the alarm can be heard from at least 10’ away.

How often should I change the batteries in my CO detector?

If your detector is battery operated or has a battery backup, then the batteries should be replaced yearly. The consumer product safety commission recommends changing them when daylight savings time ends. You could also replace the batteries when daylight savings time ends and begins to be extra safe.

How often do I test a carbon monoxide detector?

At a minimum, carbon monoxide alarms should be tested once a month, but once a week is recommended.

How loud should the alarm be?

A UL certified device will be at least 85 decibels. Anything less than this is not recommended.

Should I interconnect my carbon monoxide devices?

Yes. It is a best practice to have interconnected devices because when one sounds, they all sound. This allows you to hear the alarm no matter where you are in the home. Most interconnected devices are hardwired systems but some battery operated can also interconnect.

What is a voice alert?

A CO device equipped with voice alerts will have a human voice announce the alarm condition and possibly the location where the alert was detected to eliminate any confusion by the occupants.

What does the digital display show me?

A CO detector with a digital display will provide the current reading of CO levels measured in the home, peak levels over time, alert status and the battery condition.

Are hardwired better than battery powered CO detectors?

Yes. It’s a best practice to have hardwired carbon monoxide detectors with a batter backup. This eliminates single point of failures and allows for interconnected devices.

 

picture of kris lippi
About the Author: This article was written by Kris Lippi, the Broker and Owner of Get LISTED Realty. He enjoys writing about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as others. Want to know more? Read more here.

 

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