Carbon Monoxide Leak


Carbon monoxide is an extremely dangerous gas and, if undetected, can quickly suffocate the inhabitants of home. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Furthermore, an actual leak causes a wide variety of non-specific symptoms that may seem in no way related to the real problem. Both these issues make the detection of a carbon monoxide leak problematic.

The Problem

A carbon monoxide leak is usually produced when an natural gas or fuel oil system in the home is not functioning properly. The appliances are designed to efficiently and thoroughly burn the fuels creating carbon dioxide and water vapor. Incomplete combustion results in the production of carbon monoxide.

Major contributors to carbon monoxide leak in the home are:

  • Furnaces
  • Hot Water Heaters
  • Space Heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Gas Generators
  • Auto Exhaust

Not only is it important that each of these appliances be working properly but they must also be adequately ventilated.


In the past, the detection of a carbon monoxide leak was difficult, tiresome and, in many instances, impossible. Fortunately, modern technology has produced a solution to this formerly intractable problem, the carbon monoxide (CO) detector. There are several types of CO detector on the market that afford varying degrees of protection and price points.

The simpler ones only provide a visual clue that there is CO present and must be checked regularly. Unfortunately, they produce no audible warning. The more expensive models operate on A/C power with a battery backup. They utilize the specific chemical properties of various substrates and their interactions with oxygen and CO that results in a electrochemical change triggering an audible alarm.

Keep in mind when purchasing CO detectors that they look very similar to your standard smoke detector and some manufacturers sell smoke/CO detector combinations as well. Just don’t make the mistake of buying a smoke detector when your trying to buy a CO detector.

Lastly, professional licensed plumbing and heating contractors have hand helded CO detectors. When the contractor works on one of your appliances, they may use the CO detector to confirm there is no carbon monoxide leak being released into your home from that appliance.


In general, CO detectors are extremely sensitive and must be properly positioned to provide adequate protection without a large number of false alarms. Much of today’s current CO detector research is aimed at solving this problem.

Carbon monoxide detectors can be positioned any where in a room, even behind furniture, as CO has approximately the same density as air.

Basic installation guidelines include:

One CO detector per bedroom (inside room or right outside bedroom door)

One in the common hallway

One on each floor of your home including your basement

One in an attached garage

Keep detectors at least five feet away from a source/appliance

Battery backup is essential

The use of CO detectors is now mandatory is most states. This deadly gas knows no boundaries and kills indiscriminately. It should be a priority for any home owner that has any type of fuel burning system in his home.