Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement

Where to Place CO Alarms in Your Home

Is Your Home Protected?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the ‘silent killer’. A very dangerous gas when found in the home, it’s also one that you should be aware of. You need to make certain your home is fitted with carbon monoxide detectors in the right locations.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one the two most common causes of death by non-medicinal poisoning. It kills more than 400 people each year, and according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is also responsible for around 40,000 emergency department visits annually. The truly tragic part of these statistics is that most all could have been prevented by the simple installation of inexpensive and readily available detectors.

Are you sure your home is adequately protected? In this article we’re going to learn all about carbon monoxide, CO detectors and where to place them in your home, plus a few tips to make sure they are always operating correctly.


Photo by Andrea Davis from Pexels

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane and other fuels are not completely burned during use.

Among the most common of all sources of carbon monoxide is the internal combustion engine, such as that in your automobile, and it can also be produced by gas furnaces, ranges and ovens, by generators, and by water heaters and any appliance or equipment that burns fuel as a power source.

Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous as it is next to impossible for you to detect. It is odorless, has no color, and is also tasteless; you simply do not know it is there. It is highly poisonous, and inhalation can kill very quickly. The danger is that carbon monoxide deprives the  brain, lungs and heart of oxygen, as it rapidly takes the place of oxygen in the blood. A large intake can kill you in minutes, as you will lose consciousness and suffocate.

Carbon monoxide is also slightly lighter than air, and it will dissipate evenly in a room. It is notable that incidents of CO poisoning occur mostly in the winter months, when fuel-burning heating systems are widely used and windows are closed.


CO Poisoning Symptoms

It’s worth being aware that while CO poisoning can affect anyone, it is most dangerous to the elderly, the very young and those who have respiratory problems. Symptoms can vary, but there are some tell-tale signs you should be aware of.

If more than one member of the household suffers from unusual and severe headaches and dizziness, this can be a sign of CO poisoning. Likewise, nausea can be a symptom, as can fatigue and vomiting. If you or others show such symptoms when in the home yet they disappear when you are elsewhere, you should certainly have the house checked for elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

If you suspect someone is suffering from CO poisoning, it is important to do the following:

  • If possible, move the patient to an open area where they can breathe fresh air.
  • Call 911 or a local emergency number for assistance.
  • Open all windows and doors in the home.


Ways to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Emissions

From the above, you can see that it is vital that carbon monoxide is not present in the home, or in the workplace. There are some rules you can follow that will prevent – or at least minimize – the chances of CO emissions in the home. These are as follows:

  • Make sure that your heating system, water heaters, and any appliances in the building that burn oil, gas or wood are serviced by a licensed technician on a yearly basis.
  • Do not use a grill or stove – or any item that involves the burning of solid fuels or gasoline – in the home, garage or basement, or anywhere else where there is inadequate ventilation. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions as per correct usage.
  • If you live in an area of heavy snowfall, ensure that the vents and air intakes for your heating systems are cleared after a fall. These should also be checked on a regular basis for any other debris that may collect in them.
  • Do not run the engine of a car inside the garage, even with the door open, as this will certainly result in dangerous CO emissions.

Next, we will have a closer look at carbon monoxide detectors, how they work, and where you should install them in the home.


How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

There are a number of different types of carbon monoxide detector, and also various different sensors that they use to detect CO. Let’s start by talking about the sensors.


Sensor Types

The Electrochemical CO sensor is the most popular type. This method uses a small container of, usually, sulfuric acid and a series of electrodes. Put simply, when the system detects CO undergoing a chemical reaction to the acid, it creates an electrical current that sets of a warning buzzer. These systems are cheap to buy and use, and usually last between 5 and 10 years, plus they are regarded as highly accurate.

A Metal Oxide CO sensor operates by monitoring the resistance of a semiconductor using an integrated circuit. If the resistance falls, it is a sign of carbon monoxide displacing Oxygen, and the warning alarm will sound. Found in some homes in the US, but predominantly in Japan, this system is not as popular as the Electrochemical method, and also not considered as accurate.

A Colorimetric CO sensor uses a photocell shining onto a chemical strip in the unit, which changes color when carbon monoxide is detected. The amount of light absorbed or reflected by the strip is the indicator that signals the warning to sound. Not as popular as the electrochemical models, they are nevertheless effective.


Power Options

A further factor to consider is whether you should install AC hardwired detectors, AC with battery back-up, or battery only. The latter are cheaper to buy and install, but you will need to check regularly that the batteries still hold a charge unless you upgrade to one with sealed lithium batteries that will last for 10 years.

If you are fortunate enough to have a newer house, you may have AC hardwiring already in place for your smoke detectors. Replacing a smoke detector with a combo smoke/CO detector will give you the advantage of not having to install as many CO detectors as the hardwiring interconnects the units. All AC hardwired models have a battery backup that works in the event of a power outage.

The best version for older homes is the AC model with battery back-up, which plugs into any wall outlet and includes a battery backup.


The Correct Placement of CO Detectors for Maximum Safety

CO detectors do not need to be mounted on a wall, but should not be on the floor. It is best they are placed at around head height if possible. Make sure it is situated at least three feet from any fuel-burning appliances, and not in a cupboard or behind furniture. It should also be sited away from external doors or ventilation systems, and not close to areas of high condensation.

Which rooms should you place them in? This is the most important consideration when it comes to CO detectors.


How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors do you Need?

The answer to the above will depend on the layout and size of your home. Many people fit a few detectors in hallways or landing areas. This can be sufficient in smaller homes. However, I would recommend you have an individual CO detector in each room where there is a fuel-burning appliance.

The kitchen is a certainty, and any rooms in which you have heaters also. Bedrooms with heating appliances must be fitted with them. Have a look around your home and make a list of the number of heating appliances and other fuel-burning devices, and ensure each is covered with a CO detector.


Tips to Make Sure Your CO Detectors are Working Properly

It is essential that you check your detectors regularly to see that they are operating; they will have a check routine that you can follow, so check the manufacturer instructions. If you have battery-powered models, change the batteries every six months, even if the batteries still have a charge. Always test your detectors – battery or mains – every month.


Final Thoughts

Carbon monoxide can and does kill, and without CO detectors is all but impossible to detect, so make sure you have your home equipped and covered. Click here to check out my top four recommendations of Carbon Monoxide Detectors.


Steve Wright

Steve Wright is a general contractor who over the last 30 plus years has built hundreds of new homes, ranging from first time affordable homes to multi-million dollar custom homes and everything in between.

This Post Has One Comment


    As someone coming from an Instrumentation background, a Carbon Monoxide Detector is an important instrument to have in the house. The information shared on placement is also very important. Thanks.

Comments are closed.