Lifesaving Carbon Monoxide Detector Tips

A carbon monoxide detector can be one of the best do-it-yourself home security investments you’ll ever make. Plain and simple, carbon monoxide detectors save lives.

They do not detect smoke like a smoke alarm or heat like a heat detector unless they're designed to perform this double function. (In which case it is clearly indicated on the box they come in).

They detect the presence of poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) gas at high levels in a home environment and sound an alarm to inform the occupants of the lethal danger. Without a detector, carbon monoxide gas is practically untraceable. It’s odorless, tasteless, and invisible.


How CO Is Produced - Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced whenever fuel is burned improperly. It can be produced by

Safety in the home.
  • Oil and gas furnaces.
  • Gas powered hot water heaters
  • Gas ovens and ranges.
  • Wood-burning fireplaces.
  • Charcoal BBQ grills.
  • Running car engines.

It’s a result of incomplete combustion. If a fuel-burning device is malfunctioning and located in a closed or poorly ventilated area, CO can build and reach deadly levels. Install a carbon monoxide detector to be notified of dangerous CO levels the moment they occur.

Carbon monoxide detector.

Types Of Detectors - There are three basic types of CO detectors available on the market today.

  1. Electrochemical
  2. Semiconductor
  3. Biomimetic.

1. Electrochemical CO detectors confirm the presence of carbon monoxide gas in the air by detecting the slight changes that the gas causes to a unit’s internal electrical current. Electrical current changes are measured and monitored by internal sensor electrodes that are immersed in a chemical solution. Any changes in the current will sound the alarm.

Electrochemical CO detectors are highly recommended. They are classified as being the best type of CO detector you can buy. They have a reputation of instantly detecting dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. These units are battery operated have a life span of 5 years or more.

2. Semiconductor CO detectors were the first CO detectors to be invented. They also confirm the presence of carbon monoxide gas by detecting slight changes in electric current.

Instead of a chemical solution however, the units use an internal heated semiconductor - usually tin dioxide. When carbon monoxide comes into contact with the tin dioxide, it creates a change in the electrical current by lowering the resistance across the semiconductor. This increase in current triggers the alarm.

This type of carbon monoxide detector is a good choice because it requires practically no maintenance.

3. Biomimetic CO detectors use a gel pack filled with synthetic hemoglobin to confirm the presence of carbon monoxide gas in the air. CO gas is absorbed into the gel pack causing the hemoglobin to change color.

Sensors detect the color change and notify the unit’s processor to sound the alarm. Biomimetic detectors are known to trigger false alarms due to the contaminants that accumulate in the gel pack over time. The gel pack should be changed once every 2 to 3 years.

These units can last up to 10 years and operate on battery power.

DIY security.

Where To Install CO Detectors - As a general rule, a minimum of one carbon monoxide detector should be installed on every floor of your home including the basement.

Detectors should be located close to each bedroom or sleeping area. Usually within 10 ft. As an addition safety measure, CO detectors can also be placed close to any fuel burning devices such as furnaces or water heaters.

Before installing your CO detector, contact your municipality. Inquire about the local by-laws covering CO detectors in your area. When installing the unit, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

(The above instructions can be applied to smoke alarms and heat detectors).

If you live in the US, you can find your state statutes concerning CO detectors by clicking here.


Choosing The Right Power Source - Carbon monoxide detectors are powered in one of three ways. They can work with a:

  1. Battery Power Source
  2. 120v Power Source
  3. 12v/24v Power Source

1. Battery Power Source CO detectors run on batteries. When the batteries run low, the units chirp annoyingly to inform the homeowner.

Home security systems equipment.

These types of CO detectors may not be the best choice because they require a commitment of maintenance. The batteries need to be changed once a year.

Studies show that most people don’t bother changing the batteries yearly. They remove the batteries altogether to eliminate that annoying chirping sound.

Without a power source, the detector cannot sense carbon monoxide gas.

2. 120v Power Source CO detectors plug directly into the wall socket. They are a better choice. However, in the event of a power outage they offer no monitoring capabilities. Some units come with a battery back up.

3. 12v/24v Power Source CO detectors can be connected directly to your system’s security panel. These types of detectors are clearly the best choice.

Once they are part of your security system, the central station that monitors your alarm system daily can monitor them as well. Some security systems dial out as opposed to being centrally monitored.

Depending on the setup, your home alarm system may be configured to directly dial out and contact local authorities when the carbon monoxide detector senses high levels of gas.

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