Is a gas detector different than a carbon monoxide detector?

Propane is a combustible hydrocarbon gas liquefied through pressurization. It is ideal for fuel in space heaters, cooktops, clothes dryers, furnaces, pool heaters, ovens, and water heaters.

Further, homes using these appliances require a propane detector installation to monitor propane gas levels. But many homeowners mistakenly think a CO detector finds and announces propane issues.

Unfortunately, this assumption is wrong, as a carbon monoxide detector is not a proper tool to warn you. The device cannot detect propane, natural gas, and methane leaks. Instead, it only measures carbon monoxide levels, not raw fumes or fuel.

So, let’s tackle one of the primary questions asked by propane gas users.

Is a gas detector different than a carbon monoxide detector?

A carbon monoxide detector is not the same as a propane detector. Furthermore, a CO detector primarily detects carbon monoxide concentrations in the atmosphere, whereas a propane detector measures propane gas levels in the surrounding area.

Therefore, having a separate device for measuring propane levels is advisable. Or you can get a detector designed to monitor carbon monoxide and propane gasses.

This article focuses on carbon monoxide and propane, the best detectors for various scenarios, and how to install them. 

In addition, we discuss frequently asked questions from homeowners concerning combustible gases.

What Is the Difference Between Carbon Monoxide and Propane Gas?

Is a Carbon Monoxide Detector the Same as a Propane Detector?
Smoke Detector

Carbon monoxide comprises one carbon and oxygen atom joined by a triple bond. It is among the simplest molecules of the oxocarbon family.

Further, the typical carbon monoxide source is impartial carbon compound combustion caused by insufficient heat or oxygen.

We also have multiple biological and environmental sources, such as smoke from forest fires, generating and emitting significant carbon monoxide levels.

On the other hand, propane is a three-carbon alkane featuring the molecular formula C3H8. It occurs at standard pressure and temperature, but you can compress it to a transportable liquid.

Moreover, propane is a by-product of gas processing and petroleum refining. It is also handy in industrial projects, domestic applications, and low-emissions public transport.

Generally, carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, whereas propane gas is odorless and colorless.

The former comes from burning wood, charcoal, gasoline, and charcoal. Also, improperly ventilated engines and appliances in enclosed and tightly sealed spaces allow CO to accumulate to hazardous levels.

At standard pressure, carbon monoxide condenses at -192 degrees celsius and freezes at -199 degrees celsius.

Conversely, propane gas liquefies at -42 degrees celsius and solidifies at -187.7 degrees celsius.

Interestingly, carbon monoxide comes from propane’s incomplete combustion. Therefore, you are more likely to work with the latter as fuel.

As such, keep a few things in mind when using propane for cooking or heating your home. For instance, remember that the gas causes severe harm when you ignore recommended precautions.

Fortunately, propane has a distinct smell, making it easy to identify. In addition, the manufacturers add an odor to the gas for homeowners to identify it during a leak. 

However, we have situations when you cannot smell propane, especially when exposed to water, air, or rust. So, installing a propane detector is prudent as it alerts you to take immediate, relevant action during a trigger.

Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Propane Gas?

Carbon monoxide detectors don’t detect propane in your facility, requiring you to mount propane detectors separately.

Besides, a CO detector cannot detect a propane tank leak. Therefore, having the detectors on every home level and outside all sleeping areas may not help during a propane leak.

Thankfully, propane gas detectors are affordable and widely available online and in home improvement stores.

So, install the devices near propane appliances such as basement furnaces, the kitchen, water heaters, and fireplaces.

Also, propane is heavier than air. Hence, place the detectors lower than the bed pillows.

What Kind of Detector Do I Need for a Propane Heater?

Your household should have separate CO and propane detectors. Alternatively, you can invest in a specialized combustible gas detector that detects propane and carbon monoxide leaks.

Luckily, manufacturers are specific about the gases their detectors sense. So, the device does not sniff out gases not listed by the manufacturer.

Some common gases to watch out for in your environment include

  • Toxic Gases Like Carbon Monoxide

Exposure to high CO levels from running vehicles or leaking appliances is fatal. The gas is lighter than air. Hence, place the detectors near the ceiling to detect potential leaks effectively.

Further, you can identify these toxic gases by electrochemical and metal oxide semiconductors.

  • Combustible Gases

These gases comprise propane and methane and feature a mercaptan additive. In addition, the compound smells like rotten eggs, making the gas easily detectable.

However, you might not detect the leak if you are away from the source. Thus, always confirm that your natural gas detector is functional.

Combustible detectors utilize infrared and catalytic sensors. Also, since propane is heavier than air, place the detector closer to the ground.

  • Radon

Radon is a radioactive compound that forms naturally from thorium, uranium, and radium. Further, these radioactive metals break down in soil, rocks, and groundwater.

People get radon exposure from breathing it in the air from gaps and cracks in homes and buildings.

Let’s also consider a few propane detector devices for your home. Choose the most suitable one depending on your needs.

  • Nighthawk Plug-in Carbon Monoxide and Explosive Gas Detector

This CO detector does double duty by detecting combustible gases such as propane, methane, and carbon monoxide.

It also features a built-in extension cord, allowing you to plug the unit into a low outlet. 

You can mount the unit higher, where carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks rise. However, having additional units closer to the ground is advisable when detecting all combustible gases. Otherwise, you’ll miss propane since it sinks in the air.

The product’s digital display helps you see the carbon monoxide level since the gas’ peak level is integrated into the detector’s memory.

Further, the device has a battery backup to keep it operational during power outages.

Lastly, the Nighthawk has a loud alarm and an easy-to-access reset button in case of a false alarm.

  • Air Quality Monitor

These digital air monitors are newcomers to the home safety industry. They monitor radon, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter from airborne chemicals and cooking fumes from household cleaners.

Air Quality Monitor detector tracks outside climate variables like humidity and temperature. Then, it sends the data to the Airthings app, enabling you to monitor your home’s indoor air quality.

However, these detectors cannot monitor carbon monoxide and are not a replacement for smoke alarms in a facility.

  • Propane and Natural Gas Detector

This detector comes with a six-foot extension cord, allowing you to plug it into an outlet. In addition, you can install it near the ceiling to check for natural gas.

Putting it near the floor is also advisable for easy propane detection.

EG air detectors take three minutes to complete the warm-up and self-test sequence. Also, the device features an LED display that registers combustible gas levels. Then, it triggers a red light and voice alert when the concentration is above five percent.

  • 30-442-P-WT Propane Gas Alarm

This gas detector is specific for propane and ideal for campers and RVs. In addition, it works with a 12vDC and triggers during a propane gas leak.

The indicator light also changes color to alert you during a leak or when the unit needs replacing.

Moreover, the device’s alarm is easy to test and silence with a single button. However, it will trigger again if you do not ventilate the space adequately.

A homeowner needs multiple gas leak detectors, especially in a house with many bedrooms and levels. In addition, the recommended sensors operate continuously to guarantee enhanced safety. They include

  • Handheld Probe

This sniffer device detects combustible, explosive gases in areas near the probe. Further, it displays the gas concentration levels on a meter.

You can use a handheld probe as a safety check when suspecting a potential leak. However, the units do not work continuously and do not detect carbon monoxide.

Therefore, they are not ideal as smoke and CO detectors.

  • Stationary Devices

These detectors are often mounted high up a wall, on the ceiling, or at another specified location. They detect toxic gas leaks such as carbon monoxide and combustible gases.

Stationary devices operate continuously. They use batteries or are hardwired into the home’s electrical system.

However, get a unit with an extension if you must plug it into an outlet. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to mount the device up the wall to detect various gases.

  • Pens

This device senses combustible gas, but professionals discourage its use. The unit must be very close to the gas leak’s source, making it less effective than other alternatives.

In addition, it does not operate continuously or detect carbon monoxide.

  • Spray

This leak detector is only effective if you spray it on the exact leaking spot. But it is similar to spraying soapy water on a tire, losing air. Thus, experts do not recommend it for monitoring gas leaks.

Also, getting mixed up on which gas leak detector to buy is expected since we have multiple options. Thus, check out the guidelines below on what to consider when purchasing the device.

  • Expiration Date. Most gas leak detectors function effectively for a limited duration, such as five, seven, or ten years. Therefore, check your device’s expiration date and replace it in time.
  • Battery Life. Ensure your detector alerts you when the batteries go flat. Also, test the devices every month and replace the batteries annually.

Choosing to replace the batteries on New Year’s Day is a perfect reminder. In addition, remember that some detectors are sealed and need complete replacement when the battery fails.

  • UL-Listed. The gas leak detector should show the UL-Listed Mark for peace of mind and a guarantee of its functionality and operational safety.

Moreover, this label shows that the device meets the Underwriter Laboratories’ safety standards.

  • Type of Gas. Understanding which gases your device detects is prudent. Furthermore, some units identify more than one gas, and others can detect smoke.

However, remember that a carbon monoxide detector does not detect gas leaks unless the manufacturer says so.

  • Sensitivity. Generally, sensors with a greater and adjustable sensitivity easily identify gas leak sources than their counterparts.
  • Smart Home Integration. Check whether the gas leak detector integrates with your smart home system when working with other smart gadgets. This way, you boost your home security.
  • App-Based Alerts. Some appliances send data via apps to your smartphone, via BlueTooth, or WiFi to help you monitor the situation remotely.

Where Do You Place a Propane Gas Detector?

Is a Carbon Monoxide Detector the Same as a Propane Detector?
Image of Propane Detector

Mount propane detectors near propane appliances such as basement furnaces, kitchens, fireplaces, and water heaters.

Also, put the devices in rooms with space heaters and outside all sleeping spaces.

Typically, a propane gas leak features a distinct smell often likened to rotten eggs. But sometimes, this assumption does not hold.

Furthermore, propane can lose its odor, and the ‘classic propane smell diminishes. Therefore, you will not detect the gas, exposing yourself and your family to danger.

Potential causes of this odor loss include

  • An underground propane leak, meaning the rotten egg smell diffuses in the soil.
  • Excessive air, water, or rust in the propane tank.
  • Odor sticking’ in the propane distribution pipes.

However, we have other reasons apart from propane odor loss why people fail to smell the gas. For instance, you may not detect the odor if you have allergies or a bad cold.

Therefore, install propane detectors in your facility and ensure they are operational. It is better to err on the side of caution.

Moreover, ensure your propane detectors have the Underwriters Laboratory approval. Confirm by checking the UL logo on the product label.

Lastly, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for battery replacement and installation.

What Are the Symptoms of Being Exposed to Propane Gas?

Generally, propane vapor is not toxic. But the gas is asphyxiating: thus, it displaces oxygen in your lungs.

As a result, it is challenging to breathe when exposed to high concentrations. In addition, physical activities make the symptoms worse.

So, call 911 after inhaling a significant propane amount. Also, alert your propane supplier when suspecting a propane leak.

Further, people and animals contact propane in its gaseous state. Therefore, inhalation is the most common exposure form. 

Symptoms of propane exposure include

  • Low Exposure
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing
  • drowsiness
  • Significant Exposure
  • Convulsions
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid loss of consciousness
  • Pain and limb numbness
  • Heart failure
  • Asphyxiation

Remember, liquid propane is not toxic but extremely cold when escaping from a container. The symptoms of this occurrence include

  • Frostbite with tissue death, infection, and blistering
  • Itching and numbness that cause irritated skin

Do You Need a Carbon Monoxide Detector With a Propane Fireplace?

Although a propane fireplace does not increase CO levels in your home, having carbon monoxide detectors is prudent.

In addition, ensure that the device is functional and change the batteries twice a year to be safe.

Venting gas fireplaces by a chimney is advisable unless you use a ventless one. Further, ventless fireplaces burn with a smokeless flame and thus do not need ventilation.

But still, consider having a carbon monoxide detector for peace of mind.

In addition, follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing the unit for optimal functionality. For instance:

  • Keep the installation six feet from a flame or fuel source to minimize false alarms. Also, mount the detector five feet from the ground or six inches from the wall when putting it on a ceiling.
  • Drill holes for hanging and securing the mounting bracket.
  • Use fresh batteries to guarantee a lasting service.
  • Press and hold the test button to confirm the device works properly. The exercise should also produce lights and an alarm.
  • Finally, attach your carbon monoxide detector to the mounting bracket.

Carbon monoxide detectors need regular care and maintenance to work well with a propane fireplace. So, keep pressing the test button to assess the device’s battery level and replace them annually.

In addition, CO detectors feature a short lifespan. Therefore, expect a chirp reminding you to replace them every five years.

Finally, experts recommend getting the most suitable carbon monoxide detector for your propane fireplace. The available types include

  • Hardwired or Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Detectors

These detectors plug into an outlet or wire to an existing home current. As such, they do not need batteries, making them a low-maintenance option.

In addition, the sensor cycles to purge and resample for dangerous CO levels.

  • Battery-Operated Carbon Monoxide Detectors

These devices are the most manageable and have a straightforward installation procedure. Further, they utilize sensor technology and react quickly to prolonged CO gas exposure.

You can mount the detector in any home area and move it when necessary since it does not need a power source.

  • Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Dual Detectors

Thankfully, we have some all-in-one detectors that help detect carbon monoxide and smoke. They are ideal for space-challenged facilities or homeowners who want to reduce visual clutter.

Most smart smoke and combustible gas detectors are a combination. Therefore, they notify the user of fires or poisonous gasses.

Since carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless, and invisible, a CO detector detects gas leaks before they become dangerous.

Thankfully, we have a few recommended device features to consider when getting the device for your propane fireplace.

  • A Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Combo

Fire hazards are not always obvious. So invest in a smoke detector. In addition, the device helps when a fire starts during the night or if you are away.

Smoke alarms use ionization or photoelectric smoke detection technologies. Ionization detectors have an electric current passing between two diodes. And interrupting this current triggers the alarm.

On the other hand, photoelectric smoke detectors use light sensors. So, the alarm triggers when smoke particles break the light beam.

Carbon monoxide detectors also use various sensors. They include metal oxide semiconductors, biomimetic, and electrochemical sensors.

Metal oxide semiconductor sensors trigger the alarm when excess CO lowers its electrical resistance. Conversely, biomimetic sensors feature a gel whose color changes after absorbing carbon monoxide.

Electrochemical sensors have electrodes dipped in a liquid. Then, the electrodes sense an electrical current interruption when CO levels exceed the specified limit. As a result, you hear an alarm.

So, a smoke and carbon monoxide detector combination saves money and space. You only need to replace and test batteries in one unit, not two.

  • Interconnected Carbon Monoxide Detector

Ensure that the carbon monoxide detectors are interconnected. This way, all alarms go off when one is triggered near the propane fireplace.

In addition, this practice helps meet your area’s building codes without physical wiring.

An interconnected Carbon Monoxide detector is suitable for big homes. You can hear the alarm even when the trigger is in another part of the house.

However, the downside of this system is that knowing which part of the home triggered the alarm is challenging.

  • Smart Device Integration With Carbon Monoxide Detectors

You can download an app on your cellphone and connect it to your smart CO detector. In addition, your phone gets a notification when the alarm goes off.

The smart CO detector informs you of the specific location with the alarm trigger and guides you on the best response.

For example, it can prompt you to contact non-emergency services for minor issues or call 911 for an emergency.

The above CO detector features will help you manage carbon monoxide levels with a propane fireplace conveniently and efficiently.

So, do not shy away from spending a few more coins for enhanced protection.

Does a Propane Fire Pit Emit Carbon Monoxide?

Propane fire pits emit carbon monoxide. Hence, using them outdoors is advisable. In addition, the pit’s carbon monoxide dissipates quickly, avoiding health issues. But you’ll have to avoid standing directly over the fire.

Also, you can use the fire pit indoors. Only ensure that the space is sufficiently ventilated. Otherwise, you’re likely to suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

Propane pits release CO gas which burns as part of the heat-creation process. As a result, you get carbon monoxide.

Unfortunately, this gas is impossible to smell yet deadly. Therefore, a carbon monoxide detector comes in handy.

Some manufacturers insist that their modern fire pits produce low carbon monoxide levels. But the gas reaches high and hazardous levels if you do not allow it to dissipate and spread out.

Finally, purchase high-quality and safe propane fire pits for camping for the best experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Do I Need to Know About Installing a Gas Leak Detector?

First, check the manufacturer’s instructions on the installation process and unit positioning. For example, know whether you need to plug in the device to a wall outlet or if it uses batteries.

In addition, confirm whether you should mount the device on the wall or ceiling. This way, it has a better chance of detecting a gas leak and ringing the alarm. 

Carbon monoxide and natural gas are lighter than air and rise, requiring the detector to be mounted higher in the room.

On the other hand, propane is heavier than air and sinks. Thus, locate the sensor closer to the ground.

Having additional sensors positioned strategically in the facility is prudent. Besides, the National Fire Protection Agency recommends having carbon monoxide detectors outside every sleeping area and on every home level.

Also, interconnect your alarms throughout the home: all detectors sound when one sounds.

If you don’t hear well, equip your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms with a strobe light. This light turns on after the alarm is triggered, making it easier to notice.

Further, you can set up a bed shaker activated by the alarm to alert someone who removes their hearing aids at night.

  • What Do I Do After Detecting a Gas Leak at Home?

First, evacuate the facility immediately, especially if you notice a rotten egg smell. This odor signifies a combustible gas leak, usually propane or natural gas.

Call your gas company to inspect the leak’s condition and source. Generally, utility companies advise homeowners not to look for the source of the leak when suspecting a gas leak.

Ensure everyone, including pets, moves out of the home when the CO detector sounds. Also, consult with the local fire department on the safe time to reenter the house.

Please do not turn anything on or off on your way out. The action can cause a spark and ignite flammable gasses.

Also, this recommendation incorporates appliances, light switches, doorbells, and thermostats.

Lastly, please avoid ventilating the home. Allow the utility company or fire department to identify the source of the gas leak.

  • Can I Use a Propane Fire Pit Indoors?

Do not use propane fire pits indoors. Further, although the enclosed area retains heat, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning.

Therefore, utilize propane or electric heaters with lesser heat output.

Alternatively, open windows and vents to allow sufficient air circulation when using a fire pit indoors.

Also, look for carbon monoxide poisoning signs and have a CO detector as a backup safety measure.

  • Are Propane Fire Pits Safe To Breathe?

A propane fire pit is not safe to breathe. Thus, please avoid standing directly over it. In addition, ensure the room has enough airflow to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.

The smoke also causes suffocation, so avoid using the wood fire inside the house.

Generally, you’ll know it’s propane as the gas is smelly and visible, unlike carbon monoxide, which has no smell.

  • What Are General Tips on Propane Fireplace Safety?

You are safer venting traditional propane fireplaces outside. Otherwise, carbon monoxide enters your house and results in poisoning.

Further, frequently clean the fireplace and chimney and inspect them annually to keep them open and unblocked.

Always consult an expert to inspect and clean your chimney and fireplace. And leave the damper open when using the fireplace.

  • Are Ventless Propane Fireplaces Any Good?

Ventless propane fireplaces are a modern alternative designed to burn fuel efficiently. Besides, it burns cleanly with a regulator mixing air and propane.

As a result, you minimize flames in the atmosphere.

Unlike conventional propane fireplaces with a fresh air intake section, a ventless unit utilizes oxygen in the room, causing a drop in oxygen levels.

Further, the unit releases carbon monoxide if it malfunctions.

Modern brands have an in-built detector for carbon monoxide and oxygen. As such, the unit automatically shuts off the fireplace when oxygen levels are too low or if they detect carbon monoxide.

However, although these fireplaces facilitate proper operation, having working carbon monoxide detectors is still advisable.

  • What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when CO accumulates in a person’s bloodstream. The body replaces the oxygen in the blood with carbon monoxide, leading to severe tissue damage or death.

Also, this poisoning type occurs very fast and causes death if the affected person does not get treatment.

Call 911, go outside for fresh air, or consult emergency personnel when you notice flu-like symptoms when using a propane fireplace. These signs include nausea, impaired mental function, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Fortunately, a functional carbon monoxide detector alerts you of the gas, eliminating doubts about whether you have flu or are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • What Are the Tips for Propane Fireplace Installation?

Get a professional to install, clean, and maintain the propane fireplace. Besides, properly mounting the fireplace and adhering to safety requirements enhance health hazard prevention.

Please avoid skipping professional installation and do it yourself to save money. Otherwise, you’ll expose yourself to severe risks like carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • What Constitutes a Proper Propane Tank Inspection?

Inspect propane tanks regularly for potential leaks, rust, and holes, to prevent the gas from losing its smell.

This loss occurs when propane mixes with air or water where there’s a hole at the tank’s bottom.

Ensure the propane tank has a proper shut-off valve. This feature comes in handy during a leak or repair by shutting off the gas supply.

Propane devices include their shut-off valves for repairs and routine service.

Maintain appliances using propane properly. For instance, look for anything that seems wrong, like low pressure or flame.

Moreover, inspect lines going to the appliance frequently to confirm optimal operations.

Propane gas is suitable for heating and cooking when appropriately utilized. However, please store and handle it carefully, using the recommended lines, valves, and fittings.

  • Is There a Difference Between Combustible Gas Detectors and Propane Detectors?

Generally, combustible gas detectors are appliances that detect flammable, toxic, combustible, and oxygen-depleting gasses in a facility.

Further, they are ideal for large organizations using large gas amounts, but you can install them in residential homes for additional protection.

On the other hand, propane detectors specifically detect propane gas. Therefore, you will find them more in residential homes using propane fire pits, propane heaters, and other propane-producing appliances.

Combustible gas detectors utilize ultrasonic, electrochemical, infrared-point, and semiconductor sensors to detect gas leaks.

These sensors help measure the gas concentration in a specific location. Then, the detector will sound if the concentration is too high.

  • Are Propane Detectors Useful in My Home?

You can use propane detectors in your house as they detect high propane levels that harm your health. Hence, they are a safety measure in households with propane-producing devices.

Usually, manufacturers design propane as an easy-to-detect gas, making it straightforward to detect leakage. Moreover, they add a chemical that gives the gas a strong, pungent smell that resembles a rotten egg odor.

However, you may have family members unable to smell propane, especially if the propane devices are in a hidden house area.

Therefore, getting a propane detector helps keep everyone safe and gives you peace of mind.

  • What should I look Consider When Getting a Propane Detector?

Your home needs a carbon monoxide and propane detector to reveal CO and propane leaks. Some homeowners assume that a carbon monoxide detector covers for not having a propane one. But having both is advisable.

In addition, ensure you get the correct propane detector. For instance, choose a device approved by the Underwriters’ Laboratories or the safety authorities in your local area.

This way, you guarantee that your devices comply with safety standards.


Understanding what carbon monoxide detectors can and cannot detect is crucial in determining the most suitable security system.

However, one primary limitation of these devices is that they cannot alert for propane.

Unfortunately, most homeowners mistakenly feel protected by CO detectors. But unfortunately, they are at risk in case of a natural or propane gas leak.

These devices cannot detect leaks in a propane tank, requiring you to invest in propane detectors.

Therefore, engage in the above discussion to learn about these gases and your safety options.

Is a Carbon Monoxide Detector the Same as a Propane Detector?

A carbon monoxide detector does not work as a propane detector. Besides, it cannot detect propane and other natural gasses.

Therefore, you’ll need to mount a propane detector when working with propane gas-producing appliances.

In addition, experts recommend that you install both propane and carbon monoxide detectors when working with propane heaters and fire pits. The appliances produce mild CO levels, and it is prudent to keep them in check.

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