Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement - Do's and Don'ts

Now that winter is here, the widows are closed for the duration and the furnace is set on high its time to make sure our carbon monoxide detectors are working and placed correctly to save us in the event of an emergency.

Every fuel-burning appliance in your home, including a gas furnace, produces some levels of carbon monoxide. Normally those gasses are carried out of your home, but if something goes wrong a CO leak can be life-threatening to your family. That's why it's so important to have carbon monoxide detectors to help warn you of excess CO in your air.

So where should carbon monoxide detectors be placed in order to best detect CO leaks in your home?

Carbon monoxide detectors placement: Do's

In order to maximize the protection of your home from excess levels of carbon monoxide, place your detectors in all of the following places:

  • On every level of your home. In order to ensure that your home has maximum protection, it's important to have a CO detector on every floor.
  • Five feet from the ground. Carbon monoxide detectors can get the best reading of your home's air when they are placed five feet from the ground.
  • Near every sleeping area. If your CO levels get too high during the nighttime, it's important that detectors can be heard by everyone sleeping in your home. Place your detectors close enough to every sleeping area so that they can awaken everyone in the case of an emergency.
  • Near attached garages. Cars produce carbon monoxide any time they are running. If you have an attached garage, those gasses can quickly spread to the rest of your house. A CO detector near your attached garage will warn you if that becomes a problem.
  • Where the manufacturer recommends. Every model of carbon monoxide detector is tested according to manufacturer specifications. It's important to take those specifications into account when you're deciding where to place your detectors.

Carbon monoxide detectors placement: Don'ts

The following locations can either create a false alarm or avoid your detector from properly identifying the CO levels in your home:

  • In close proximity to any fuel-burning appliance.
  • In excessively humid areas such as your bathroom.
  • In direct sunlight.
  • Near any sources of blowing air such as a fan, vent or open window.

How Carbon Monoxide Is Measured

Before we get into what to look for when purchasing carbon monoxide detectors, it will help if you understand how carbon monoxide is measured.

CO is measured in a ratio called ppm (parts per million). Just as 5% means 5 out of a 100, 5 ppm means 5 out of 1 million. So if your home has 10 ppm of carbon monoxide, there is 10 carbon monoxide molecules for every million molecules in the air.

How Much CO is Too Much?

Even in homes without gas appliances, there could be CO. So how do you know how much is too much? It depends on your age, size and health. Here are some common thresholds of carbon monoxide.

  • 0.5-5 ppmAccording to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is the usual range for homes without gas stoves or other gas appliances.
  • Under 70 ppm – Most people have no ill effects when exposed to ranges below 70 ppm for short periods of time. Prolonged exposure (6-8) hours can cause dizziness and headaches. Also, those with heart problems may experience chest pain, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • 100 ppm - Slight headache when exposed for 2 hours or longer.
  • 150-200 ppm – Prolonged exposure at these levels often leads to disorientation and unconsciousness and can also lead to death.

Types of Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Now that you understand how carbon monoxide is measured, you’re better prepared to understand the two basic types of carbon monoxide detection devices: alarms and monitors.

Carbon monoxide alarms or detectors
These are the most common type of carbon monoxide devices. They work like your smoke or fire alarms, simply alerting you when it deems that there is a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide in your home.

However, long exposure to low levels of CO can be as dangerous as short amount of exposure to high levels. And most alarms and detectors only tell you about the high levels. That’s where the carbon monoxide monitor enters.

Carbon monoxide monitor
A carbon monoxide monitor is different because it actively monitors the amount of carbon monoxide in your air and gives you a digital readout. This lets you know when there are higher than usual amounts of CO in your home, even if they aren’t at what other alarms deem a “dangerous” level.

Which is Better?

I encourage homeowners to purchase a carbon monoxide monitor, especially if you live with young children or elderly parents, as they can be more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. However, carbon monoxide monitors with digital displays can be more expensive and having an alarm or detector is better than no device at all.

For more information on how to protect your family from the dangerous invisible killer that is CO, check out this carbon monoxide safety flyer from the National Fire Protection Agency

By Alan Singer Owner of Sterling Home Inspections located in Armonk NY.