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    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 430 people die and 50,000 visit the emergency room annually due to carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. That’s why it’s important as an installer to know and understand the different types of carbon monoxide detectors you can offer to your customers, so they can promote a CO-free environment. Learn everything you need to know about carbon monoxide detectors, including available features, where they should be installed and more, in this simple guide.

    What is carbon monoxide (CO)?

    Carbon monoxide (CO) is a life-threatening, odorless and colorless gas that takes the lives of hundreds of people every year. It is produced when various fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas are burned. Many common household items such as gas-burning appliances, charcoal grills, portable generators, lawn mowers and pressure washers produce CO. In commercial buildings, equipment and machinery like gas furnaces and boilers, water heaters and HVAC systems are sources of carbon monoxide. When dangerous levels of CO accumulate in an enclosed area, people and animals are highly prone to CO poisoning.

    Types of carbon monoxide detectors

    Due to its undetectable state, many people are often unaware that they are being exposed to carbon monoxide. To avoid CO poisoning, many states and cities in North America have made it mandatory for residential and commercial buildings to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in the appropriate areas. However, determining the type of CO detector to install highly depends on local state or city laws and some situational events. Here are the common types of CO detectors that you should consider installing:

    1. Battery-operated detectors – Battery-operated detectors, as the name suggests, run on the power of batteries and will alert the user when the battery is low. It is recommended for these batteries to be replaced every six months, even if there are no warning beeps. Battery-operated detectors should be installed in residential homes that are not equipped with special wiring for hardwired detectors. Depending on the state or city, battery-operated detectors are only allowed in commercial buildings that are not considered new construction.

    2. Hardwired detectors – Hardwired detectors require special wiring that are typically only found in recently new or renovated homes and commercial buildings. These detectors are equipped with a battery backup in case of a power outage. It is recommended to replace these batteries at least every six months or no longer than every year.

    3. Plug-in detectors – Plug-in detectors are simple to install as they just need to be plugged into a standard AC wall outlet. This makes it a popular choice among people who want to avoid the installation process of a battery-operated or hardwired detector. Plug-in detectors are also equipped with backup batteries that should be changed every six months. These detectors are commonly used in residential applications, since commercial buildings require heavy-duty detectors with stronger detection capabilities.

    Another CO detector you can offer your customers is a combination smoke detector that serves as a 2-in-1 protector against carbon monoxide and smoke. These detectors are offered as hardwired or battery operated. Similar to hardwired and plug-in detectors, hardwired combination smoke detectors will also be equipped with backup batteries in case of power outages.

    Where should carbon monoxide detectors be installed?


    Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed on each floor of a home and near sleeping areas, so if an alarm goes off, it can be easily heard. This includes all bedrooms, living rooms, hallways and in the basement. They should also be placed high on the wall or on the ceiling – except for plug-in detectors. In addition, keep these guidelines in mind when installing carbon monoxide detectors in residential homes:

    • Install the detector at least six inches away from the wall (if mounted on the ceiling)
    • Install the detector at least six inches below the ceiling (if mounted on the wall)
    • Do not install the detector in attics, garages or any outside areas
    • Place the alarm about 15 feet away from any fuel burning or cooking appliances, humid areas, in direct sunlight, or near any area of blowing air
    • Ensure that nothing covers or obstructs the detector


    Similar to residential, carbon monoxide detectors should be installed on every floor, hallways and rooms that operate with fuel-burning and CO producing equipment. Depending on the state or city regulations, commercial buildings that may require CO detectors include schools, hotels, motels, corporate offices, commercial kitchens, warehouse facilities and industrial buildings. Furthermore, keep these guidelines in mind when installing carbon monoxide detectors in commercial buildings:

    • Install the detector at least 15 feet away from any room with fuel-burning equipment
    • Do not install the detector directly in a room with fuel-burning equipment
    • Do not install the detector in attics, garages or any outside areas
    • Ensure the detector has a continuous source of electrical power from the building
    • Ensure that nothing covers or obstructs the detector

    Common features of carbon monoxide detectors

    Although all carbon monoxide detectors will do the job of detecting CO, some detectors offer special features such as digital displays, voice alarms, wireless capabilities, hush buttons, smart features with Wi-Fi connectivity and more. Most commercial buildings and some residential homes will require the installation of CO detectors that are able to interconnect with each other and simultaneously set off all alarms when one detector finds traces of CO. In a commercial setting, detection devices, including CO detectors, are designed to directly integrate with a fire panel system in order to ensure 24/7 monitoring and quick notification to the fire department in the case the detector sounds.

    Check rules and regulations

    Over the years, states and local jurisdictions in North America have enacted regulations and guidelines regarding the placement and type of carbon monoxide detectors that should be installed in both residential and commercial buildings. As an installer, it is important to understand any rules and codes regarding the installation process for legal purposes. Also, be sure the detector meets the most updated standards of UL 2034 or IAS 6-96.

    The UL 2034: Safety Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms covers all the requirements that a CO detector should meet to be deemed acceptable for public use. The IAS 6-96 is a standard proposed by the International Approval Services (IAS) that supplements the UL 2034.

    Maintenance and testing

    To ensure a carbon monoxide detector functions properly, it should be tested monthly and maintained according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. To test a CO detector, press down the test button on the alarm and ensure the proper number of beeps are heard according to your specific model. You should also look to replace CO detectors every five to seven years. Additionally, for battery-operated CO detectors or detectors that hold backup batteries, these should be updated with new batteries at least every six months or every year, depending on the detector.

    Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, silent-killer gas that is undetectable and life-threatening to people and animals. To avoid poisoning or death from CO exposure, be sure to educate your customers about why it’s important to install CO smoke detectors throughout residential and commercial buildings. And as an installer, ensure you study and follow the respective state or city regulations when you install carbon monoxide detectors.

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