Carbon Monoxide Detector — The Wrong and Right Places to Install!

Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement is Crucial!

You may have recently installed a Carbon Monoxide Detector in your home. However, don’t mistakenly think that you’ve created a safe environment by plugging the unit in to an AC outlet near the floor in a bedroom or upstairs hallway.

Carbon Monoxide detector.

Carbon Monoxide detector.

According to safety experts, families are not safe when Carbon Monoxide Units are mounted lower than seven inches from the ceiling! According to this advice, plugging the unit into a typical outlet near the floor creates very little safeguard against Carbon Monoxide poisoning in your home. Instead, A Master’s Hands, LLC recommends buying a battery operated unit and installing it in a main floor hallway, on or within 6 inches of the ceiling.

If you have already purchased a plug-in Carbon Monoxide Detector and feel you must utilize it, it may make sense to have an expert handyman or licensed electrician come to your home to install an AC outlet closer to the ceiling so the Carbon Monoxide Detector you already purchased can be used and be effective for you. Or, you can simply return the unit you purchased and exchange it for a battery-operated device that can easily be installed on the ceiling near sleeping quarters in your home.

Proper placement of a carbon monoxide (CO) detector is important. If you’re installing only one carbon monoxide detector, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends it be located near the sleeping area, where it can waken you if you’re asleep. Installing additional detectors on every level and in every bedroom of a home provides extra protection against carbon monoxide poisoning.

Homeowners should take care to not install CO detectors directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as such appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide during their start-up phase, causing false alarms. A CO detector should also not be placed within 15 feet of heating or cooking appliances, or in or near very humid areas, such as bathrooms.


When considering where to place each carbon monoxide detector, keep in mind that although carbon monoxide is roughly the same weight as air (carbon monoxide’s specific gravity is 0.9657, as stated by the EPA; whereas “air” has a specific gravity of 1.0), CO is nevertheless slightly lighter than air. Additionally, when CO is generated, it’s often contained within warm air coming from combustion appliances, such as home heating equipment. If this is the case, carbon monoxide will rise along with the warmer air. Either way, your best way to detect CO at an early stage is with a detector mounted on or near the ceiling.

For this reason, the makers of First Alert®, a leading brand in carbon monoxide detector technology, suggests mounting their CO detectors on the ceiling. This also puts the detector out of the way of potential interference, such as accidental contact by pets or curious children. Imagine the potential consequences of depending on a detector that’s been inadvertently turned off (or unplugged) by a child innocently playing with it.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector Placement

The International Association of Fire Chiefs recommends a CO detector be placed on every floor of your home, including the basement. A detector should be located within 10 feet of each bedroom door, and there should also be one near or over any attached garage. Each detector should be replaced every five to seven years. The instructions that come with most detectors include the specific replacement timeframe for that unit. Furthermore, often a label is attached to the detector, providing a location for you to record the replacement date for the unit for future reference.

Suggested installation locations seem to vary widely, by manufacturer. Manufacturers’ recommendations sometimes differ based on research conducted with each company’s specific detectors. Therefore, be sure to read the provided installation manual for each model of CO detector before installation.

CO detectors do not automatically serve as smoke detectors and vice versa. That said, “dual-detection” smoke/CO detectors are readily available, and A Master’s Hands recommends such models to our clients. Smoke detectors detect the smoke generated by flaming or smoldering fires, whereas CO detectors are designed to alert residents when CO levels rise above accepted levels. Thus, these devices could go a long way toward preventing loss of live through either smoke inhalation, or carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.


Carbon monoxide is produced as a byproduct of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. For example, in the home, CO can be formed by open flames, space heaters, water heaters, blocked chimneys or running a car inside a garage.

Since CO is colorless, tasteless and odorless (unlike smoke from a fire), detection and prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning in a home environment is impossible without a warning device such as a CO detector. In North America, an increasing number of state, provincial and municipal governments require installation of CO detectors in new units – among them at the time of this writing are: the U.S. states of Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Vermont; plus the Canadian province of Ontario, and New York City.

According to the 2005 edition of the carbon monoxide guidelines, NFPA 720, published by the National Fire Protection Association, sections and, all CO detectors “shall be centrally located outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms”, and each detector “shall be located on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the installation instructions that accompany the unit.”

When CO detectors were introduced into the market, they had a limited lifespan of just 2 years. However technology developments have increased this and many now advertise, 5, 6 or even 7 years. Newer models are designed to signal the residents with an audible notice, indicating that the units need to be replaced. That said, there are many instances of detectors actually continuing to operate far beyond this point.

Although all home detectors use an audible alarm signal as the primary indicator, some models also offer a voice alarm that speaks clearly, stating the specific concern — smoke, carbon monoxide, or even a low-battery situation. Some models also feature a digital readout of the CO concentration, in parts per million. Typically, these models can display both the current reading as well as a peak reading (from memory) of the highest level measured over a period of time.

The digital models offer the advantage of being able to observe levels that are below the alarm threshold, detect and record levels that may have occurred during the residents’ absence, and assess the degree of hazard if the alarm sounds. They may also aid emergency responders in evaluating the level of past or ongoing exposure or danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Battery-only carbon monoxide detectors tend to go thru batteries more frequently, but with a need to change batteries only about once yearly, they should be fine. Plug-in detectors with a battery backup (for use if the power is interrupted) provide less battery-changing maintenance, but (as mentioned earlier) there’s usually no duplex (AC power) outlet on the ceiling, so a battery-powered device is recommended.

Some CO detectors are available as system-connected, monitored devices. System-connected detectors, which can be wired to either a security or fire panel, are monitored by a central station. In cases where the residence is empty, the residents are sleeping or occupants are already suffering from the effects of CO, the central station can be alerted to the high concentrations of CO gas and can send the proper authorities to investigate possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

If CO does find its way into your home, the levels may build, creating a dangerous situation. In the UL2034 Standard, Underwriters Laboratories specifies response times for CO alarms as follows:

* At 70 parts per million: Unit must sound alarm within 60-240 minutes.

* At 150 parts per million: Unit must sound alarm within 10-50 minutes.

* At 400 parts per million: Unit must sound alarm within 4-15 minutes.


Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, present whenever fuel is burned. It is produced by common household appliances such as gas or oil furnaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, ovens and ranges. A charcoal grill operating in an enclosed area, a fire burning in a fireplace or a car running in an attached garage also produce carbon monoxide.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the U.S. Making sure furnaces and other potential carbon monoxide sources are properly vented and in good working condition, along with owning a UL listed carbon-monoxide detector, could become a matter of life and death.

But what do you do and who to you call when your carbon monoxide detector goes into the alarm state? The manufacturer of First Alert®, the leading brand of carbon monoxide detectors, recommends the following:

If the alarm goes off, turn off appliances or other sources of combustion at once. Immediately get fresh air into the premises by opening doors and windows. Call a qualified technician and have the problem fixed before restarting appliances. If anyone is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, vomiting, call the fire department and immediately move to a location that has fresh air. Do a head count to be sure all persons are accounted for. Do not re-enter the premises until it has been aired out and the problem corrected.

To identify the source/s of carbon monoxide, have a professional check the following :

* Gas or oil furnaces are frequently the source of carbon monoxide leaks. Measure concentrations of carbon monoxide in flue gases. Check all connections to flue pipes and venting systems for cracks, gaps, rust, corrosion or debris. Check the filters and filtering systems for dirt and blockages. Check the combustion chamber and heat exchanger for cracks, holes, metal fatigue or corrosion.

* Check furnace flame, burners and ignition systems. A predominately yellow, flat, lazy-looking flame in a natural gas furnace indicates fuel is not burning efficiently and is thus releasing higher than usual levels of carbon monoxide. Oil furnaces with a similar problem produce an ‘oil’ odor, but remember you can’t smell, see or taste carbon monoxide.

* Chimneys and venting systems must be carefully checked for blockages caused by debris, animal nests, cracks, holes or cave-ins. A blocked chimney or venting system can force dangerous gases back into your home.

* Venting and fan systems on all fuel burning appliances must be inspected for proper installation to assure carbon monoxide is vented out rather than in. Don’t forget gas water heaters, clothes dryers, space heaters or wood burning stoves.

* Inspect fireplaces for blocked or bent chimneys or flues, soot and debris or holes in the chimney that could release carbon monoxide exhaust back into the home.

* Stove pilot lights in a closed-up home can be a source of carbon monoxide build-up if not operating properly because they are not vented to the outside. Check to be sure they are operating properly.

* Fireplace pilot lights can also produce carbon monoxide and should be checked regularly.

* NOTE: Never burn charcoal inside no matter how much you want to recapture summer and never use your gas stove as a heater. Keep the oven door closed and use it for cooking only.

* NOTE: Never leave a car running in an attached garage even if the garage door is open.


Taking time to understand the characteristics of carbon monoxide and how Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) listed carbon monoxide detectors work could save your life.

Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. There is only one safe and reliable way to detect carbon monoxide in your home — install a carbon monoxide detector / alarm.



CO combines with hemoglobin by binding tightly with the hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying agent within our red blood cells. When CO binds with hemoglobin, forming carboxyhemoglobin, oxygen is no longer transported by hemoglobin in the blood to provide life to organs throughout the body. When oxygen is robbed from the brain and other organs, death can result. In addition, up to 40 percent of survivors of severe CO poisoning experience memory impairment and suffer from other serious illnesses.

Many cases of reported carbon monoxide poisoning indicate that victims are aware they aren’t feeling well, but become so disoriented that they’re unable to save themselves.


The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends every residence with fuel-burning appliances be equipped with at least one UL-Listed CO alarm.

In addition, take the following measures:

* Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to manufacturer’s instructions.

* Have the heating system, chimney and vents inspected and serviced annually.

* Examine vents and chimneys regularly for improper connections, cracks, rust or stains.

* Make sure to read your CO alarm’s user’s guide and keep it near your CO alarm for quick reference.

For more information on keeping your home safe, contact A Master’s Hands, LLC.