How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Are Needed?

Like food, shelter, and water, carbon monoxide detectors should be considered a basic need for home safety.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirm that at least 430 people in the US die yearly due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, while approximately 50000 visit the emergency department in the US annually due to accidental CO poisoning.

For this reason, a carbon monoxide detector that will alert you of increased CO levels in a surrounding area is necessary. But how many carbon monoxide detectors are needed?

The number of carbon monoxide detectors is determined by the number of floors and bedrooms in your house and the number of gas-powered appliances you have. We recommend placing at least one carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your house. However, to receive maximum protection, you should place a carbon monoxide detector outside each bedroom of your home.

This article will address several frequently asked questions about carbon monoxide detectors. We will discuss why you need it, safety installation procedures, how they work, and how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Keep reading to find out more!

Should I Have a Carbon Monoxide Detector In Every Room?

How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Are Needed?
A Carbon Monoxide Detector

We first need to understand what carbon monoxide is. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is best known as a “silent killer” following its odorless, colorless, and tasteless features.

Carbon monoxide is also poisonous to humans. It can seep into your house unnoticed, causing an unimaginable tragedy; that is why you need a carbon monoxide detector.

As we mentioned, you need to install carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your house. This will help alert all of your family members during an emergency. We also recommend installing a CO detector in every sleeping area and outside the bedrooms.

You must also install them in shared rooms, such as the living room (where people spend most of their time), for extra safety while you and your family sleep.

Why do we advise placing the carbon monoxide detectors outside each bedroom and not inside?

Well, you will likely inhale the dangerous gas without noticing any poisoning symptoms while asleep. However, placing a detector outside the sleeping area will inform you of a lurking danger (CO gas) before exposure.

The layout of your home also heavily influences the number of carbon monoxide detectors you should and can have. You could easily survive with a single CO detector installed in each bedroom’s hallway. 

Generally, the larger your home, the more carbon monoxide detectors you need. 

The silent rule of thumb here should be: Do not skimp! We know how dangerous a carbon monoxide detector is, its negative implications on human health, and the potential death it poses.

Therefore, if you are uncertain about the number of detectors you need, hire security personnel to inspect your home and advise you accordingly.

This will protect you from potential danger and give you complete peace of mind, knowing that you and your loved ones are protected.

The number of gas appliances in your house also influences the number of carbon monoxide detectors you need. Therefore, you should have a carbon monoxide detector for every gas appliance in your house.

These gas appliances will sometimes emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide if poorly installed or if they malfunction. Some of the most common fuel-burning appliances you will find in your home include:

  • Gas fireplaces (in the living room, den/study, or main bedroom).
  • Gas range/ oven (kitchen)
  • Gas Water Heater (in the utility room or closet)
  • Gas dryer (in the laundry room).
  • Gas or oil furnace (commonly found in the attic, basement, or garage).

NOTE: Ensure your carbon monoxide detector is as close to the gas appliance as possible.

Now that we know how many carbon monoxide detectors a house needs, knowing how and where to position them is just as important. Shall we?

Ceiling, Windows, and Doors.

We recommend placing your carbon monoxide detectors close to the ceiling and away from windows and doors. Here is why: carbon monoxide is a slightly light gas that can travel close to the ceiling height.

Therefore, you’d want to ensure that your detectors will pick up the presence of CO gas as soon as it is in the air. Close to the ceiling or on the wall is the best place.

Moreover, avoid placing your carbon monoxide detectors close to your windows and doors. The presence of fresh air in such locations could potentially dissipate the CO into the surrounding air.

This may sound like a good thing, but it’s not! Opening the windows and the doors will reduce the amount of CO present, but it will not prevent CO poisoning. You can still experience carbon monoxide poisoning if you inhale small amounts of the gas for a long time.

Therefore, installing the detectors close to the window or door may not pick up the poisonous gas leak, making you and your family more vulnerable to poisoning.

Another critical thing to consider with carbon monoxide detectors is the location of your gas-powered appliances. It would help to place your detectors at least five to ten feet away from them.

Carbon monoxide often occurs as a result of incomplete combustion. This can happen when your gas fuel is burning. While the CO emitted during the burning is in small amounts, you want to ensure that your gas appliances have proper ventilation so the CO gas does not remain in the environment.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, and silent killer gas, so you will unlikely detect it. However, if a leak occurs, you will want to get an immediate notification through the carbon detector alarm. In such a case, enough gas would have traveled the distance at unsafe levels, hence the alert from your device. Positioning the detector five to ten feet away gives you the surety of being protected.

TIP: Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to last about five to seven years. They will not act as effectively once they exceed the recommended lifespan. Therefore, consider replacing them as soon as they reach this age for optimum protection.

How Many Square Feet Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Cover?

Most homeowners are curious to know how many square feet a single carbon monoxide detector can cover, as this will inform them how many they need in the house.

However, we do not have a straightforward answer for this. The distance area a single detector can cover varies between 2000 and 7500 sq. ft. depending on how well-ventilated your garage is and the location of the sensors.

The number of CO detection points is determined by how the garage is swept and the time for the gas to travel from the supply o the exhaust points.

Additionally, the physical layout of your house or garage also informs whether there exist several dead zones that require the presence of carbon monoxide detectors.

Do You Need a Carbon Monoxide Detector If No Gas?

Many people without gas appliances in their houses debate whether to install carbon monoxide detectors. That’s understandable, considering gas appliances are one of the primary sources of carbon monoxide in most households. However, what if you don’t have a gas appliance? Do you still need them?

Let’s first agree that you cannot ascertain that you will never have a fuel-burning device in your house. We recommend installing carbon monoxide detectors despite not having gas appliances in the house. You sure as hell don’t want to take chances.

There are several sources of CO gas other than gas appliances. The gas could creep up from any fuel-burning devices in the house. For this reason, you will need to install a carbon monoxide detector with or without a gas appliance.

Several other household appliances burn fuel and can produce carbon monoxide gas. These appliances could be anything from stoves to refrigerators to dryers and water heaters.

While debating whether you should or should not have a CO detector because of the absence of a gas appliance, debate if you are sure you have no other device that could emit CO gas.

Let us also not forget the cars, small engines, and generators that could produce carbon monoxide around your house. Therefore, before you skip installing this detector, assess and ensure that you have none of these things (which is practically impossible).

Let’s not take chances! I’d say that prevention is better than cure. It’s better to be safe with a CO detector, even if you don’t have any gas appliances than feel sorry later on for accidental CO poisoning.

So, why do you need CO detectors even without gas appliances?

Carbon monoxide is very sensitive because of its colorless and scentless properties. Some people make the mistake of imagining they can smell it, but you cannot! This should tell you that it will not warn you as it penetrates your house other than your carbon monoxide alarm.

You can smell other gases because manufacturers designed them to produce a foul smell to alert people. However, you cannot smell carbon monoxide because it is not manufactured. It is a byproduct of combustion.

We now know a little more about carbon monoxide gas. You still need to install CO detectors even if you have no gas on the property because garages, small engines, and portable stoves can also produce carbon monoxide. Let us discuss these at length. 

CO Coming from a Car in the Garage

Some people have garages attached to their houses. Convenient as it seems, it is dangerous to operate an engine in a closed building. Therefore, this is something that you should NEVER do, even for a short time. 

An engine produces exceptionally high concentrations of carbon monoxide gas, which can equally raise the concentration of CO in a building. These high levels would lead to people suffocating and collapsing even before they realize the problem.

Carbon monoxide displaces and replaces the oxygen in your body with the CO gas in your brain, resulting in intoxication and a lack of reasoning.

Therefore, briefly warming your car, even in an open garage, is entirely unsafe. Even for two minutes, you will raise the CO concentration in the garage up to 500 ppm.

A study showed that there was still a measurable concentration of CO in the garage ten hours after a car had been backed out of the garage. Therefore, you are likely to breathe a lot of CO gas if you work on your car in a garage.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially notorious when air and CO flow from the attached garages into the house during winter. The CO concentrations that move within the house vary depending on the layout.

From a study conducted in Minnesota, 5% to 85% of the air leaking into the house emanated from the garage, containing carbon monoxide and other contaminants.

Now, the garage serves as the primary source of carbon monoxide. As the CO penetrates the house, it is diluted, and the concentrations in the house are lower than in the garage.

It would take several hours for the CO concentrations in the home to reach a maximum limit. Therefore, the CO detectors will sound several hours after the vehicle has left the garage. By this time, a person in the house might start experiencing headaches and flu-like symptoms.

Do we still have to explain why you need a CO detector despite not having a gas appliance? If you have a garage attached to your house, you will need the alarm as you are more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) from Small Engines or Generators

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also found that portable backup generators produce the poison gas carbon monoxide. We advise against using small fuel-burning engines in the house.

State laws in several parts of the country recommend that generators be at a minimum distance from the house. If you have to use them near the house, ensure that you limit the time for use. The following information from the CDC informs you why you need a CO detector when you have generators or small engines:

  • Current ICE Generator emissions kill about 500 people annually because of carbon monoxide. The stated figure reportedly tripled between 2000-2005. Those who survived were left with profound disabilities such as paralysis, blindness, Parkinson’s disease, temporary emotional instability, memory loss, psychosis, dementia, incontinence, or peripheral neuropathy. 
  • In late 2005, 65% of individuals polled by the CDC mistakenly believed they could safely run their generators in a basement. (This is wrong, as CO gas could still travel into the house; having a detector to alert you is the ultimate safety necessity.)
  • Small engines are not environmentally friendly. Notably, the generators used at home emit as much carbon monoxide as 100 idling automobiles; alarming, isn’t it?
  • Small engines contribute to 30% of CO problems that the world faces.

Small engines or generators equally produce a considerable amount of carbon monoxide gas that could kill you. With such data, you would want to protect yourself from forming part of a deadly statistic. DO NOT risk not having a CO detector in the house because of not having a gas appliance.

  • Portable Stoves and Heaters that Produce  CO

Incredible evidence indicates several deaths of people from using portable heaters, lanterns, or stoves during camping or in their normal daily house. Anything that burns fuel would cause carbon monoxide emissions.

While carrying portable heaters and stoves into the house may be tempting, it is never wise to do so. Avoid bringing them into the house, especially if you live in high altitudes, as there is a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Takeaway: You need a carbon monoxide detector despite not having gas appliances, as there are other places like the garage, small engines, and portable heaters and stoves from which carbon monoxide could come.

Carbon monoxide detectors are affordable. There is no reason why you should not have them in the house. Also, detaching these detectors may be considered illegal if you live in a rented house.

However, these laws and building codes vary from state to state. Contact the local fire department to familiarize yourself with the rules regarding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Mundane as they seem, CO detectors are a necessity for a reason. They could save your life, your family’s, or your pets. Installing it on at least every level of your house would be best.

How to Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Before installing a carbon monoxide detector in your house, you should first research the available options and consider what will work best for you. 

There are two types of carbon monoxide detectors: battery-powered and AC-powered ones. We strongly advocate using the AC-powered over the battery-operated, especially if you find it difficult to replace the batteries constantly. 

Besides, go for a device that would be loud and fast enough once it detects an increase in carbon monoxide levels.

Also, you’d want to locate the best installation location for your CO detector, as it is equally as crucial. We’ve mentioned that the best location for your carbon monoxide detector should be near the ceiling and away from fuel-burning appliances.

We place it near the ceiling, as carbon monoxide is less dense than air and would rise. Also, position it at least 15 feet away from heating and cooking appliances and in areas with high humidity.

You also need to ensure that the device is not covered by drapery, furniture, or anything else that would tamper with its effectiveness.

Now, here is what you need to do to install your carbon monoxide detector:

  • Unpack the product and read the installation instructions

You should ensure that the packaging has everything you need. The battery-operated devices often come with screws and anchors, while the AC ones only require you to plug them in.

  • Mark Installation Holes

Remove the twist-off base and align it with the wall in the position you have decided to install. Use a pencil dot to mark the holes.

  • Punch the Holes

Use a wall punch and a hammer to make holes in the spots you marked with a pencil. Ensure that you are careful enough not to make holes more extensive than the provided screw anchors. If they come out more prominent, the fit will not be perfect.

  • Install the Screw Anchors

On top of the holes you’ve just punched, place your screw anchors one at a time. Use a hammer to tap them into position gently.

  • Install the base of the detector into the wall

Most detectors will come with a twist off base. If it has one, use a screwdriver to screw it into position. However, if it doesn’t have the twist off base, put the screws into the anchors and carefully screw them in without tightening. Ensure that they are well protruded for the detector to fit over them.

  • Install the Batteries and Fit the Detector into Position

After installing the batteries, you must ensure your device is working by testing it. This is also an excellent opportunity to learn and familiarize yourself with the sound patterns it produces.

  • Schedule for Battery Replacement

Low batteries are among the leading causes of a dysfunctional CO detector. Therefore, it is paramount to schedule for its replacement twice a year. Mark the date on your calendar or schedule an electronic reminder alerting when you need to replace them.

Also, ensure you check the chemical that enables the detection process, as you must periodically replenish it.

TIP: Make a point of continuously checking your CPO detector every few months, especially during the winter. Check to ascertain that it is working correctly. Also, install the detector away from children and pets to prevent unnecessary tampering.

If the alarm goes off, turn off all the burning appliances, open the windows and doors to ventilate, and quickly evacuate everyone. Also, remember to call the emergency services and inform them of the situation.

Here’s How to Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector:

How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

A carbon monoxide detector is such a simple device. Some parts uniformly work to alert a household once they detect this poisonous gas. The parts are housed in a plastic chamber approximately 3 inches in diameter. The components of the device may vary, depending on the manufacturing company. But here are the basic parts that you will find in most of the detectors:

  • A small silicon microchip. It sends an electronic charge, a “what to do” signal, to the other components in the detector. The chip is always connected to a copper-wired, integrated electronic circuit panel that serves as the unit’s base.
  • Light-emitting diode (LEDs). This part uses light to inform you about how the detector is functioning and when you need to replace the battery. Some manufacturers design a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel that reads out the CO levels.
  • Wires. These wires help to connect the detector to the building’s electrical system. Others will have batteries that would power up the device.
  • A test/ rest button would ensure the alarm is working perfectly.
  • A detection chamber that contains the carbon monoxide gas sensor. The sensor is the most crucial part of the detector as it identifies and measures CO gas concentration in the surrounding parts per million (ppm).

How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas. Once inhaled, the red blood cells readily absorb it, replacing the oxygen you need with carbon monoxide. Your body then transports the CO gas into your organs, which can cause permanent damage to your brain, lungs, and heart.

Moderate CO poisoning will be manifested through the following symptoms:

  • Burning eyes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Severe Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Confusion.

Luckily enough, you can prevent CO poisoning. Below are some of the prevention tips recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Ensure you check and change the batteries in your CO detector every six months. This is also to tell you that having a carbon monoxide detector is one of the safest prevention measures against poisoning. Therefore, if you don’t have one, buy it immediately.
  • Ensure you service your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliance yearly. Have a licensed technician do it for you.
  • Maintain your vents by keeping them free from flues and debris. The debris will block ventilation lines.
  • Avoid leaving a vehicle running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space like a garage.
  • Avoid running a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from open ventilation (window or door).
  • Never use appliances meant for outdoor use indoors, such as a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable stove.
  • Also, avoid running a generator, pressure washer, or gasoline-powered engine in any enclosed structure like a garage or basement. Please do not use them even with opened windows and doors.
  • Finally, call 911 or a healthcare professional when you suspect CO poisoning. (Learn about the symptoms for better prevention and prompt action when it happens).

Final Thoughts

Carbon monoxide detectors are undoubtedly essential safety necessities in your home. They will alert you once they detect increased levels of the poisonous gas.

So, are you asking yourself…

How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Are Needed?

Well, the number you need depends on your house’s layout and the number of gas appliances you have. Ideally, you would have a carbon monoxide detector on every house level, in all the sleeping areas, and in other common rooms. You also need a detector for every gas appliance.

Thank you! Do you have any questions about carbon monoxide that you’d like us to address? Let us know in the comments.

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