Nearly every Cincinnati home contains some type of gas-burning appliance. If something goes wrong with a gas-fired stove, furnace, dryer, or water heater, it can leak carbon monoxide—an odorless, invisible, and potentially fatal gas. Vehicles left running in the garage, as well as power tools, space heaters, and portable generators that are used indoors can also spell tragedy.

Because of this, every homeowner must understand the danger of carbon monoxide (CO) leaks and how they can be detected before occupants are injured or overcome. Read on to learn more about carbon monoxide detectors and how to help keep your home safe in the emergency of a potential CO leak.

First, What Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Look Like?

Especially if you are new to your home, you might have to do some investigation to determine if and where you already have CO alarms.

Distinct from a smoke alarm, a typical plug-in carbon monoxide detector is usually a small, rectangular, white plastic device plugged into an electrical outlet. If you’re not sure whether a device is a CO detector, it should also be labeled on the front near the test button.

Sometimes, however, detectors that are installed on your wall or ceiling can look almost identical to smoke detectors (typically a white, circular alarm). Some types of CO detectors are two-in-one smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. To determine what your device detects, you can search for the details on the back. Most will include two different light alerts labeled as either smoke or CO.

How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Do I Need?

It depends on the structure of your home and local requirements. Ohio requires a CO detector in every “sleeping unit” (bedroom) that contains or is served by a fuel-burning appliance. They’re also required if your home has an attached garage. We recommend installing a detector inside every enclosed room and at least one on every floor of your home.

These rules* also apply to any buildings where people sleep, including dorms, apartments, hotels, nursing homes or long-term care facilities, daycares, rehabs, and more.

We also suggest having a CO alarm stationed where your gas-fired furnace and water heater are, and in your laundry room if you have a gas dryer. This will help detect low-level leaks (which can still be dangerous) and offer a greater chance for early detection of larger leaks.

Where to Place Carbon Monoxide Detectors for Greater Degrees of Safety

Carbon monoxide detector placement will depend again on local laws and manufacturing instructions. Ohio law requires* a detector in each room served by a fuel-burning appliance, which can include the forced air from a gas furnace. We recommend placing these detectors on walls or ceilings within five feet of your fuel-burning appliances and ten feet of each bedroom.

The best way to help keep your home safer is by having a licensed professional install and maintain any hardwired CO detectors. Count on the experts at Mister Sparky for carbon monoxide detector services.

What Do You Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Going Off

If your carbon monoxide detector is going off, follow these steps immediately to prevent CO poisoning.

  1. Gather everyone in the home and move them outside to fresh air.
  2. Ventilate on your way out (if possible). Open doors and windows and turn off gas-powered appliances on your way out.
  3. Check on everyone. See that all the people and pets from your home are accounted for and check for any symptoms of CO poisoning (headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, chest pain, confusion, and other flu-like symptoms).
  4. If symptoms are present, call 911.
  5. Don’t reenter the home. Whether or not symptoms are present in anyone in your group, stay out of your home until a professional deems it safe to reenter.
  6. Call a service professional. Call for emergency HVAC service and have a professional inspect your home and test all fuel-burning appliances for the source of the leak.

Most often, a fuel-burning appliance such as your furnace will be the reason your alarm went off. If this is the case, schedule emergency furnace repair services to address the problem.

Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Detect Natural Gas?

No, CO detectors are not designed to detect and alert you of natural gas leaks in your home. However, oxygen levels may deplete during a natural gas leak, resulting in a spike in carbon monoxide levels. If this happens, your detector will alert you to the high CO concentrations in your home.

Natural gas leaks are accompanied by a strong odor. That’s your clue to quickly find the leaking appliance and turn it off (often the stove), and/or vacate the premises and call the gas company for an emergency visit. You may also wish to call 911 and speak with the local fire department for further guidance.

What Other Gases Can Set Off a Carbon Monoxide Detector?

A carbon monoxide detector reacts to carbon monoxide only. In some cases, an unreliable detector may react to other gases present in the home. If your carbon monoxide detector went off and then stopped, there could be other potential causes, including:

  • An old detector that needs to be replaced.
  • The detector needs new batteries.
  • Dust or dirt is interfering with the detector’s sensors.
  • The detector is picking up small traces of CO from fuel-burning appliances while in use.

How to Prevent CO Leaks

To prevent carbon monoxide leaks in your home, follow these tips:

  • Schedule regular heater/furnace maintenance.
  • Have carbon monoxide detectors professionally installed.
  • Regularly test your CO detectors and switch out the batteries every year.
  • Don’t use a gas or charcoal-burning device in your home.
  • Don’t leave your car running inside your garage.
  • Don’t use a wood stove or fireplace without ventilation (make sure the damper is open).
  • Make sure your home is properly ventilated.

Related Content: Protect Your Family from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Minimize CO Leaks with Regular Furnace Maintenance

A clogged air filter cracked heat exchanger, or malfunctioning parts in your furnace can lead to a dangerous CO leak.

Keep your home protected by scheduling regular furnace maintenance services with the professionals at One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning of Cincinnati. To schedule furnace maintenance in Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as surrounding communities such as Anderson, Mason, and Lebanon, call (513) 815-3460 or book online today.