The first thing you need to determine when purchasing a carbon monoxide detector is how many do you need. For many situations, you will only need one, but if you are buying them to obtain the best protection or to comply with codes, you may need more. The second thing you need to consider is the proper carbon monoxide detector placement to provide the best protection for you and your loved ones.
How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors do I Need?
In a residential setting, you should have at least one detector on each level that is occupied. So, if you live in a two-story home with a basement, you should have a minimum of three CO detectors, one per floor. In addition, you may want or need to place a detector near fuel-burning appliances, since they are potential sources of CO. Also, a detector near such an appliance gives an early warning of a CO problem before it builds up elsewhere in the residence. If you live in an area that requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed, you might want to call your local building official to find out the exact requirements for your locality. For maximum protection, you can place a number of these around your house. One in each bedroom is highly recommended, as sleeping people are the most at risk, and they may not hear an alarm out in the hall or farther away.
Outside of a residential setting, you are mostly concerned with CO levels in the space immediately around you, such as a car, an RV, an airplane, a restaurant, or a hotel room. One CO detector is all you need for that kind of situation, and it should be a portable, battery-powered one. The beauty of these devices is that you can get one high-quality detector and take it with you wherever you go, including your residence. We highly recommend this to anyone concerned with low levels of CO exposure.
What is the Optimal Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement?
The instructions that come with the detector should tell you where and where not to install your CO detector(s). They need to be where they can sample the air you breathe, and they need to be placed where you and others can hear the alarm if it goes off. All detectors have mute and test buttons, so you need to install them where you can get to the buttons easily. If your detector has a display, you will want to mount it where you can read the display. The recommended place for them is outside the bedroom door(s) of each sleeping area in the residence. They can be mounted on the ceiling or on the wall. Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air, but it mixes with air uniformly, so there isn’t much difference between floor or ceiling when installing the unit, other than the considerations listed above. If the recommended locations do not allow all members of the household to hear an alarm, then you should buy more detectors and place them so that everyone can hear an alarm.
It is a good idea to install a CO detector near each “combustion appliance” (water heater, furnace, boiler, gas log, etc.) in the residence, but not within 5 feet of them. Under normal conditions, all combustion appliances might spill a little CO into the air, especially when they first start. You don’t want your detector sounding an alarm when this happens. However, if there is a problem with the appliance, it can produce a lot of CO very quickly, and this is what you want your detector to alert you to. Like with many things, early warning is key to minimizing poisoning.
For non-residential situations, the optimal carbon monoxide detector placement is where it can sample the air you are breathing and where you will hear the alarm if it sounds. If the detector has a digital display, which we highly recommend, then you will want to mount it where you can see the display and any LEDs that might accompany an audible alarm.
In summary, carbon monoxide detectors are only useful if they are able to detect CO and alert you to the danger. Proper carbon monoxide detector placement is crucial to achieve the protection you want and need.