There are a bewildering array of carbon monoxide detectors for your home on the market. Sorting through them to find the right one for your situation can be a daunting task. We’re here to help. There are three main decisions you have to make with regards to a carbon monoxide detector for your home.
First, do you want or need a UL or CSA listed detector? If you live in one of the growing number of jurisdictions in the US and Canada that require them, then you are obligated to use them. If you are not required to install them, you might want to consider a low-level carbon monoxide monitor. These will actually provide better protection than the UL/CSA products, as we discuss here. Even if you are required to install UL/CSA devices, you might want to install a low-level detector to supplement the “approved” detectors, particularly if you have at-risk people in your home.
Second, do you want a carbon monoxide detector for your home that includes a digital display? The displays enable you to observe the actual level of carbon monoxide in the air. They also allow you to know about the presence of CO at a much lower level than the detectors without a display. They cost a little more, but we feel they are well worth it.
Third, what source of power do you want your detector to use? There are three sources available, and each has its proponents. The first one is replaceable batteries, usually alkaline ones that are readily available. The downside of these is that the batteries can go dead or be removed, leaving you unprotected. The second power source is a plug-in unit with battery backup. These are better, but they can’t run long on the battery. The third power source is a long-lasting, non-replaceable battery. Since the batteries can’t be removed, you will be protected as long as they last. In the best units, the batteries will probably outlive the sensor.
UL/CSA-Listed Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Detectors without Digital Display
These detectors rely on an audible alarm to warn you about unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. They offer the least protection of all, but they are the cheapest of the lot. The power source they use distinguishes them from each other. We do not recommend any detector without a display.
Detectors with a Digital Display
The digital display on these carbon monoxide detectors gives you an extra level of protection. If the CO level hits 30 ppm, they will start showing you that level. This is considerably better than waiting for an alarm to sound at a much higher level of CO. In addition, they have a button you can push to show you the peak level of CO detected since the device was last reset. Again, the power source they use distinguishes them from each other.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors That Are Not UL/CSA Listed
When people see a UL- or CSA- sticker on a product, they immediately think the product meets some high standard that is safe and dependable. Usually, that is true. Unfortunately, with carbon monoxide detectors, it ain’t necessarily so. The CO levels that UL/CSA detectors are required to alarm at are simply too high for many people (see more here). So, in this case, a non-listed product may actually be better for you than a listed one.
Low Level Carbon Monoxide Detectors
These detectors are designed to alert you to much lower levels of CO than the UL/CSA devices, and because of that, they cannot be listed. But don’t think these products are inferior. Quite the contrary – these detectors will do a superior job of protecting your health from the dangers of low-level carbon monoxide. If at-risk people are part of your household, you really need to acquire one of more of these fine detectors.
This is the product that manufacturers of most CO detectors recommend you buy and use if you have “medical problems”. While we agree, we assume they have vastly expanded the meaning of the term to include infancy, old age, smokers, and many others. This detector will automatically alert you when you’re being exposed to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide, as set by a range of public and private agencies. So even if you aren’t suffering from “medical problems”, but just don’t want to be exposed to ongoing low levels of CO, this is the detector for you.
For superior protection against low level carbon monoxide exposure 24/7, buy this product.
This is another small, portable CO detector that offers some of the best performance available. It is not strictly a residential item, but can be used there as well as away from the home. If you need a portable CO detector for some other use, then no need to buy several. One of these devices will be able to protect you and those around you from the dangers of CO. It will display the ambient CO level from 0 to 1999 ppm, and will sound alarms at several unsafe levels. It has a two-year life and can operate in a temperature range of -4 to 122 degrees F.