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Carbon Monoxide Detector Shopping Guide
Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors can keep your family and pets safe. Unlike other home hazards like fires and smoke, carbon monoxide is completely undetectable to the human senses. It is an “invisible killer” and over time can wreak havoc on your body and mind.
A good carbon monoxide detector will keep track of carbon monoxide levels and notify you if they reach dangerous concentrations. Carbon monoxide detectors are actually mandated by law in most states/counties and certain living spaces must be equipped with one.
There are a few important things to know about carbon monoxide detectors. We put together this list of some features you should keep an eye out for when buying.
The vast majority of carbon monoxide detectors will have one of three sensor types: an electrochemical sensor, a metal-oxide-semiconductor, or a biometric sensor.
Electrochemical sensors are probably the most common type. They use electrodes and chemical solutions to measure carbon monoxide concentrations in the air.
Metal-oxide sensors have a silica chip in the circuitry. When this chip comes into contact with high concentrations of carbon monoxide, the electrical resistance is lowered and the alarm is tripped.
A biometric sensor works by reproducing carbon monoxide’s effect on hemoglobin in the blood. A liquid gel inside the detector changes color when exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide while another sensor detects the color change and trips the alarm. Biometric sensors are probably the most accurate type of sensor.
The sensitivity of your carbon monoxide detector determines how much CO it can detect before the alarm trips. The UL standard is that CO alarms must be designed to go off within 90 minutes of exposure to CO levels of 100ppm or higher, 35 minutes when exposed to CO levels of 200ppm or higher, and within 15 minutes of sensing CO levels of 400ppm.
The majority of detectors will go off when exposed to CO levels higher than 50ppm after a few hours. Sustained CO levels higher than 70 ppm can cause mild to moderate symptoms while prolonged exposure to CO levels between 150ppm and 200ppm can cause disorientation, unconsciousness, and even death.
Carbon monoxide detectors can be hardwired, plugged in, or run on batteries.
Hardwired CO detectors run on your home’s electricity. Some detectors are designed with a standard 120V plug so you can just place them in any normal outlet. Many of these detectors also have backup batteries in case of power outages.
If you are buying a CO detector that does not run on electricity then we recommend looking for one with a long battery life. Most CO detectors use either AA or 9V batteries and last about 5-7 years. Pretty much all detectors have some way of notifying you when the battery is low, whether it is a blinking light or a beeping sound.
You should try to find a detector that is easy to install. As we already mentioned, some CO detectors plug directly into electrical outlets and others require you to attach them to the wall or ceiling. Keep in mind that wall-attached CO detectors should be placed about 2 feet below the top of the ceiling. CO does not really rise or fall but mixes homogeneously with normal air which means you want the sensor at about the level of the air you are breathing.
In general, CO detectors do not require much maintenance. They should be tested about once every month or so and most models include a test button. You should also regularly change the batteries. In rare cases, you may have to clean the sensors every now and then. This is most common with metal oxide sensors that can pick up layers of oxidation that affect the sensor calibration.
More and more CO detectors are incorporating smart features so you can integrate them with the rest of your home security system. Some CO detectors connect to an app that pushes a notification to your phone if the alarm is tripped and some let you control the detector straight from the app. There are also CO detectors that can tell you exactly where CO levels are the highest.
Other useful features of CO detectors include LED night lights, easy to read digital displays and sensors for detecting smoke and heat. Another feature that is more common in modern detectors is the ability to link multiple detectors together so they notify each other when they go off.
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Join the millions that have trusted BuyersGuide.org to help them make smarter buying decisions. We help our readers spend their money wisely and find the right product to suit their specific needs. Our independent expert reviews and data-driven shopping recommendations empower you find the carbon monoxide detector that's right for you.
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