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, which occurs when fuels like gas and coal burn. It's not harmful in small amounts, but it becomes fatal quickly when it builds up in non-ventilated areas.
A combination smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detector, 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.
Location for 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 just one room of the house can be deadly for that room's occupant. 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.
- Away from heaters, stoves and furnaces.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Installation
Just like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors can be battery-operated or hardwired, but both types need to be mounted. First, mark spots on the wall and/or ceiling where you'll place the screws to anchor the device. Use the mounting bracket that comes with the detector as a template for how far apart the holes should be. Consult the manufacturer's instructions for the correct bit size. Drill a hole in the middle of each spot you marked.
Next, insert plastic screw anchors in the holes you just drilled. Use a hammer or mallet to lodge them all the way into the wall. Keeping the detector separate from its mounting bracket, match up the holes in the bracket with the anchors. Use the detector kit's screws to attach the detector to the wall or ceiling.
Place batteries in the alarm (if it is battery powered), paying careful attention to which battery terminals are correct. 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). Finally, attach the CO detector to the mounting bracket.
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 drill a hole, connect the unit to your home's wiring and mount it to the ceiling or wall. Hiring an electrician to do the initial install is usually easier if you're not familiar with home wiring.
Testing and Maintenance
It's important to read the manufacturer's instructions on testing the device. Make sure the first CO detector is working properly before you move on to installing others throughout your house.
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.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Removal
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 with the manual, but removing a battery-operated detector generally involves rotating it in the direction of the "Off" arrow on the cover. For a hard-wired detector, follow the same steps then unlock the AC power harness by squeezing its sides while pulling it away from the base of the detector.
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.
Maria is a seasoned writer with 10+ years in magazine publishing. She has written for House Beautiful, HGTV Gardens, Interior Design, R Home and Country Living, among other publications.