Carbon monoxide is deadly. Since we can’t smell or see carbon monoxide, it’s important that you can rely on your carbon monoxide detector or alarm to alert you if it senses carbon monoxide in your home.
To find the best carbon monoxide detector for your home, familiarize yourself with the key features below.
- Types: There are two main types of carbon monoxide alarms – interconnected units and independent units. Interconnected units will sound an alarm on all the other alarms in the home, so you’re alerted wherever you are in the house. However, they are trickier to install, typically being hard-wired, and more expensive, due to their interconnected functionality. Independent units work just as well and are just as safe, but you will have to install more of them to ensure you have full coverage in your home. Being battery-powered, they’re easier to install and less expensive.
- Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Detector Combination Alarms: Some CO alarms double as smoke detectors, detecting both unsafe levels of carbon monoxide as well as smoke in your home. Combination devices are typically more expensive than standalone CO detectors, but may end up being more affordable since you have to buy a lower amount of devices overall.
- Power Source: Carbon monoxide detectors and alarms are either hardwired, battery-operated, or plug-in. Hardwired units are the toughest to install on your own, but once installed, you don’t have to worry about them. They usually include a battery backup in case your power goes out. Battery-operated and plug-in carbon monoxide detectors are easier for DIYers to install and can be placed in more areas of your home. Plug-in models typically have a battery backup as well.
- Safety Certification: Carbon monoxide detectors and alarms that are certified by Underwriters Laboratories Standard have met global safety standards. They will also feature a label on the device letting you know the expected lifespan and expiration date of the alarm. Most states that require CO alarms in homes require that the alarm be UL certified. Besides being required by some state laws, it’s also safer for you. When the alarm nears its end of life, you will be alerted. Always buy a CO detector that has a UL certification.
- Warranty: Most carbon monoxide detectors will last at least 5 years, although some may last as long as ten. The extra peace of mind usually comes for a higher price.
- Digital Display: A carbon monoxide detector with a digital display will let you know how high the current level of carbon monoxide concentration is in your home, as well as the trend over time (giving you insight into whether there may be a potential leak). This offers additional reassurance for people who really want to monitor the levels in their home, and can be an important safety measure for those who live with people at increased risk of CO poisoning. At-risk individuals include infants, older adults, or anyone with heart disease, anemia, or other health conditions that affect their breathing.
- PPM Sensitivity: The level of carbon monoxide in your home is measured in parts per million (ppm). Most carbon monoxide detectors can detect levels 30 ppm or above, and the alarm will go off when the levels reach 70 ppm. However, there are more sensitive models available, which can detect levels as low as 10 ppm. These are a good choice for those living with people at higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- WiFi Connectivity: Some combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are smart home-enabled. These may use your home’s wireless connection to send notifications through a smartphone app about the current CO levels in your home and the device’s battery life. Smart carbon monoxide detectors are usually more expensive, but they come with the added benefit of being able to monitor your CO levels even when you’re not home, and to hush false alarms quickly from your phone.
What else do you need to know when shopping for a carbon monoxide detector? Below we answer the frequently asked questions people have about these important safety devices.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that’s deadly to humans and animals. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of gas and oil fuel-burning devices, like cars, engines, portable generators, stoves, charcoal grills, and fireplaces. When carbon monoxide builds up in an enclosed indoors area, like your home, it can be deadly.
Why do I need a carbon monoxide detector?
Because it’s invisible and doesn’t have a smell, we rely on carbon monoxide detectors and alarms to let us know when we’re at risk of CO poisoning. According to the CDC, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning causes over 400 deaths and 4,000 hospitalizations each year.
Any home that has fuel-burning appliances, including stoves, grills, water heaters, furnaces, and engines, should have carbon monoxide detectors installed. Even if the devices in your home are electric, but your home is connected to a garage that contains cars, you should use a carbon monoxide detector to alert you if CO ever gets into the house.
How do I know if have carbon monoxide poisoning?
When we breathe in carbon monoxide, we’re at risk of CO poisoning. Too much carbon monoxide can cause you to pass out or die. If you have a headache or upset stomach, vomit, feel dizzy or weak, or experience chest pain, you may have carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you suspect you have carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area immediately to get outdoors and call 911.
How do carbon monoxide detectors work?
Carbon monoxide detectors have a sensor that measures the levels of carbon monoxide in your home. When the levels reach an unsafe amount, the device will sound an alarm to alert you.
How much do carbon monoxide detectors cost?
Depending on the type and included features, carbon monoxide detectors range from $25 to $125. When budgeting, remember that you’ll need to purchase an alarm for each floor of your home, as well as for each bedroom.
Where should I place my carbon monoxide detector?
Place your carbon monoxide detector in an area where you’ll be able to hear it if it sounds off. If it goes off while you’re sleeping, you want it to be close enough to your bedroom for it to wake you up.
If you have people sleeping in multiple bedrooms, place a CO detector outside each bedroom. If you have multiple floors in your home, there should be at least one detector on each floor.
A majority of states have legislation dictating where you must install the carbon monoxide detector. You can view your state’s laws here.
When should I replace my carbon monoxide detector or alarm?
Your carbon monoxide detector will come with safety instructions that tell you how long you can expect the alarm to function properly. This will also be clearly indicated on the box.
Unless your alarm is designed to work for longer, you should plan to replace your carbon monoxide detector every five years. Check the battery at least twice a year to ensure it’s still working properly, and replace it if not.
How else can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in my home?
One of the best ways you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is by installing carbon monoxide alarms and maintaining them properly.
You should also never use generators or grills indoors, and never use a gas-powered stove to heat your home. The CDC offers additional CO poisoning prevention tips on their website, such as how to maintain and safely use your fuel-burning appliances.
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