It can't be seen, smelled or heard, but it can be stopped. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning sends more than 20,000 people to emergency rooms each year in the U.S. and causes close to 400 deaths annually. The good news is that there's a simple way to detect the deadly gas and keep your family safe: installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Everyday fixtures like cars, gas stoves and lawn mowers all emit the deadly gas, a biproduct of burning fossil fuels, including natural gas and propane. It's not harmful in small amounts, but it becomes fatal quickly when it builds up in non-ventilated areas.
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A standard CO detector or a combination smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detector, both widely available at home improvement stores, can alert you to any potentially fatal surge in the atmosphere's CO level. The manufacturer instructions will give step by step instructions on how to install the CO detector, but the general installation instructions apply to most models.
Where to Place Carbon Monoxide Detectors
First, you'll want to decide where to install CO detectors and how many you'll need in your home. Gas buildup in any room or other enclosed area of the house can be deadly for the room's occupants. With that in mind, experts recommend placing CO detectors:
- In frequently used living areas.
- At the top of stairs leading to an upper level.
- At the bottom of stairs leading to a basement.
- On each floor.
- In each bedroom.
- In hallways that lead to bedrooms.
- The recommended distance away from gas-fueled heaters, stoves, and furnaces.
How To Install a Battery-Powered CO Detector
Battery-powered CO detectors are mounted to the wall or ceiling, just like smoke detectors. Follow the manufacturer's installation instructions for proper placement of the unit; this is critical for the detector to be effective.
- Separate the detector's body from its mounting ring.
- Place the mounting ring in the desired locations, and mark through the holes in the ring for screw anchors.
- Consult the manufacturer's instructions for the correct drill bit size to use. Drill a hole in the middle of each spot you marked.
- Insert plastic screw anchors in the holes (anchors and screws usually come with the detector). Use a hammer to tap the in so they are flush with the wall surface.
- Match up the holes in the ring with the anchors. Use the provided screws to attach the ring to the wall or ceiling.
- Install batteries in the alarm per the manufacturer's instructions, or activate the alarm if it has a permanent battery. Detectors with built-in batteries should have a switch you can flip to activate the power. Look and/or listen for a flashing light or brief beeping sound (refer to the owner's manual to understand how your device indicates that it is working).
- Attach the CO detector to the mounting ring.
- Test the alarm for proper operation as directed by the manufacturer.
Hardwired Carbon Monoxide Detectors
You also have the option of installing a hardwired carbon monoxide detector, which you can add to your home security system in some cases. If you're replacing an existing hardwired detector, you simply need to connect the wires on the new unit with the existing wires. If you're installing a new hardwired unit, you'll need to have an electrical box and circuit wiring installed; this is a job for a licensed electrician.
How To Remove a Carbon Monoxide Detector
You should check your CO detector batteries every two to three months, and you may need to remove it from the wall to replace the batteries. You'll want to consult the owner's manual, but removing a battery-operated detector typically involves rotating the body of the device about one-quarter turn to release it from its mounting ring. For a hard-wired detector, release the body from the mounting ring, then disconnect the AC power harness from the body by squeezing the clips on the harness.
If you're removing the carbon monoxide detector because it doesn't work anymore, have a new detector to go in its place. You can safely dispose of the carbon monoxide detector once you remove the unit from the ceiling.
Should the alarm ever go off, leave the house immediately and call 911 once you’re outside and in a well-ventilated area. The symptoms of CO poisoning often mimic the flu: headache, nausea, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and chest pain. If more than one person in your household simultaneously comes down with one or more of these symptoms, it could be CO poisoning.