How To Choose The Best Carbon Monoxide Alarm For Your Home

There is one threat you should be scared of: That invisible, odorless, tasteless, and potentially deadly gas called carbon monoxide. Because it’s impossible to detect with your own senses, this stuff can build up in your home without you ever knowing—until it’s too late. And this is not something to be taken lightly! From nausea to brain damage and even death, CO poisoning can take a serious toll on you and yours.

 Carbon Monoxide Alarm

The good news is that you can purchase a carbon monoxide alarm (or several) to alert you should CO start building up. This will give you enough time to try and find the source, shut it off, and evacuate your home unscathed. Truly, this is a device that can save your life.

In this article, we will:

  • Discuss whether you should purchase a CO alarm
  • Answer some frequently asked questions on the topic
  • Explore the different factors to consider when buying one
  • Introduce you to the best carbon monoxide detectors on the market today

Let’s get started.

Pros and Cons of Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Should you buy a carbon monoxide alarm for your home? Is it really worth the money and upkeep? If you’re still on the fence about whether to buy one or not, feel free to skim through our list of pros and cons to get a better idea of what to expect.

Pros

Safety

The number-one reason you should have carbon monoxide alarms is safety. Because carbon monoxide has no smell or taste and cannot be seen, a reliable carbon monoxide detector is the only way to be aware of carbon monoxide buildup in our homes.

When it comes to this toxic gas, even a little bit of exposure can have harmful effects on your health. A good carbon monoxide alarm can warn you of danger before the symptoms kick in—and trust us, even a few seconds can make all the difference.

Inexpensive

Most carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive, ranging from $10 to $20. While you can opt to spend more (upwards of $100) for a detector with extra features or a longer life expectancy, these factors are by no means necessary. You can get a full set of reliable detectors at a surprisingly low cost!

Long Life Expectancy

Like most other home safety and security items, carbon monoxide alarms tend to last a long time—some can even last up to 10 years! A lower-end product may last about half that long, but five years of peace and mind is more than worth the upfront cost.

Lots of Options

In this technological and market-driven world of ours, there are tons of options for just about any product you could think of—and this even applies to something as seemingly mundane as a carbon monoxide alarm! You can find these life-saving detectors in a range of builds and installation types, and many of them have extra features for increased effectiveness and usability. 

Cons

Installation

Depending on the carbon monoxide detector you purchase, it may require some intensive setup. Often, this setup is best performed by a professional—which is going to hurt your wallet more than the detector itself did.

The good news is that there are also easy-to-install options, such as alarms that are battery-operated or plug into the wall.

Maintenance

Like most good things in life, your carbon monoxide alarm will require a bit of upkeep over the years to keep it working optimally. This will involve things like:

  • Regular performance checks
  • Dusting and vacuuming
  • Replacing batteries (for battery-operated models)

Frequently Asked Questions

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at some of the most frequently asked questions about CO alarms. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make an informed purchase—or handle an unforeseen emergency.

Why is my carbon monoxide alarm beeping?

While a beeping carbon monoxide alarm could indicate a CO buildup, this isn’t always the case.

If the alarm is beeping rapidly without stopping, you need to leave your home immediately. The incessant beeping means that the detector has picked up high CO levels in your house.

If the beeping happens every few minutes or at specific intervals, it could indicate:

  • Low Battery – In this case, you simply need to replace the battery.
  • Malfunction – If your CO alarm is malfunctioning, you should call the manufacturer to sort things out.
  • End of Life – If your CO alarm has reached its ‘end of life,’ it’s time to go out and get another one.

The specifications we’ve listed here are typical, but not standard. If you’re worried about the (not continuous) beeping, it may be best to study the product’s user manual or contact the manufacturer.

What do you do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

In that moment of panic when your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, it can be hard to know what to do.

The most important thing is to leave the house immediately if you or anyone else in the home is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning.

If it appears that no one is experiencing symptoms, make a point of turning off any and all CO-producing appliances before leaving the house. CO-producing appliances include (but are not limited to) furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, ovens, washers, and driers. Basically, anything that burns fuel could be the CO source.

Once outside the home, call 911 to report the problem and to have a qualified person check it out. If anyone is experiencing CO poisoning symptoms, mention this during the call to have an ambulance sent over.

Where should a carbon monoxide detector be placed?

To get the most out of your carbon monoxide detector, make sure it’s installed either on the ceiling or very high up on the wall. This is because CO is just barely lighter than air; while CO itself does not rise, it’s often found in rising air (such as that from a stovetop or oven, for example). This makes a carbon monoxide detector located high up much more effective than one at ground level.

Also make sure to place your carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas and near areas where CO is most likely to build. That said, keep it far away from the actual CO-producing unit (stoves, ovens, driers, washers, etc.). If your home has multiple floors, make sure that each floor has at least one alarm.

Following these tips will ensure your CO detectors function optimally when you need them most.

How do you know if your carbon monoxide detector is working?

The best way to know if your carbon monoxide detector is working is to use the Test button included on most units. While the specifics vary from one model to another, you essentially just need to hold down the Test button and wait for it to beep. The beep means it’s working just fine.

Make sure to frequently test your CO alarm and to always change batteries or replace alarms when needed.

What causes carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a naturally occurring—but highly toxic—gas. It’s created whenever fuel is being burned, such as when you heat charcoal on the barbecue or heat your gas oven. In trace amounts, CO won’t necessarily harm you. But when this gas builds up in an enclosed area, it can cause a range of negative symptoms and even kill you. 

What does carbon monoxide smell like?

One of the things that makes carbon monoxide so scary—and a reliable detector so necessary—is that this toxic gas is invisible and has no smell or taste. This means that without a carbon monoxide alarm, you’ll never know something is wrong until it’s much too late.

Tips for Buying a Carbon Monoxide Detector

To ensure you purchase the best carbon monoxide detector for you and your home, there are several factors you should keep in mind while shopping around.

Type

The two major decisions you’ll need to make here are:

  • Basic vs. Smart

A basic device will have all the typical functions of a CO alarm: it will warn you of high CO levels and possibly even display the current levels on a digital screen. These tend to be much less expensive than their smart counterparts, so they’re perfect if you’re on a budget or don’t need anything fancy.

A smart device will have all the typical function—and more. A smart CO alarm is often used in conjunction with a phone app so you can stay updated on current CO levels at all times and adjust settings with ease. Some of these alarms can even perform diagnostics on their own. Of course, these are going to more expensive than basic CO detectors.

  • Hardwired vs. Wireless

A hardwired CO alarm usually requires professional installation (which is going to cost you, by the way!), while a wireless one requires only simple installation that you can do yourself. For this reason, many people opt for wireless models.

There are two main types of wireless CO alarms: plug-in and battery-operated. Of these, battery-operated models tend to be more effective at detecting carbon monoxide. The plug-in models are less effective because they’re generally plugged into an outlet near the floor (and not installed near the ceiling).

Wired CO alarms have their benefits, too, such as allowing for interconnectivity amongst safety devices. However, some of the smart wireless models also have this feature, making wired models a less appealing option as time goes on.

Combination Detectors

A combination detector is one that alerts you of both smoke and CO. These units can be a convenient way to get double the safety in just one product, but they do tend to be just a little more expensive than their only-CO counterparts.

Extra Features

A few nice-to-haves to look for in your future CO alarm include:

  • A digital display screen
  • A ‘peak CO level’ display
  • Voice control options
  • Voice alert and notification options
  • A temporary silencing option
  • Attractive designs or colors

This is where you can have some fun and scour through all your options to find the perfect fit!

UL Label

UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories. This is an independently operating company that tests products for safety and functionality. If something has a UL label on it, you can know that it meets high quality and safety standards—exactly what you need in your future CO detector.

Maintenance

Maintenance is fairly universal among CO alarms, though some models may need a bit more maintenance than others. Examples of what to expect maintenance-wise include:

  • Battery replacements (for battery-operated units)
  • Cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, etc.)
  • Frequent ‘check-ups’ (to ensure the unit is operational)

Depending on your preferences, you can opt for units that require less maintenance by nature (for example, plug-ins or wired units which would not require batteries).

Budget

Finally, you must decide upon a reasonable budget for your purchase. This will help you narrow down your options and get a better idea of what to look forward to in your future CO alarm.

Smart alarms or those with lots of added features are going to cost more money than more basic units. On average, you can expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $200 on your CO detector, depending on the type and features.

The Best Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Now that you know more about CO detectors and what to look for while purchasing one for your home, it’s time to look at our top picks. These are some of the best carbon monoxide detectors currently on the market, each with its own unique features so you can find just what you need!

1. Kidde Nighthawk Plug-In AC/DC Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector

Kidde Nighthawk Plug InView in gallery

This CO alarm from Kidde has it all. In addition to basic CO detection, this device features a display screen that updates every fifteen seconds to keep you updated on any changes in CO level. Its design also dispels a common fear among CO alarm owners: What if the device stops working and you don’t know about it? It features a red blinking light to indicate it’s working and it will also alert you when the batteries need to be changed.

You’ll also appreciate its plug-in design. This makes setup super-easy for you! Better still, it comes with an extension cord so that you can rest it on higher ground (like a table) while it’s plugged in. This makes it safer and more convenient than many other plug-in models.

Oh, and you have to love its subtle design and attractive white exterior. Great for any home environment!

2. Alexa Enabled Smoke Detector and Carbon

Alexa Enabled Smoke Detector and CarbonView in gallery

“Alexa, check CO levels.” Okay, this is a hardwired detector unit and you will have to dig a little deeper in your wallet to purchase it.

But come on, it’s Alexa.

This combination smoke and CO detector not only has all the safety features you need to protect your home, but it also has all the capabilities of Alexa. Really. You can actually ask Alexa to play music through the speakers of your CO alarm. What a time to be alive. 

Related: The Best Smart Devices And Accessories That Work With Amazon Alexa

You’ll also appreciate that you can track the unit’s battery life using a special app—no more freaking out every time the alarm starts its ‘low battery’ beeping. Throw in its nightlight feature and you have a CO alarm straight from the future.

3. Aircraft Carbon Monoxide CO Detector

Aircraft Carbon Monoxide CO DetectorView in gallery

This Japanese-made, battery-operated carbon monoxide detector offers the perfect mix of simplicity and efficiency.

This unit is specially designed for use in cars, aircraft, and other vehicles. Its small size, no-frills design, and sensitive CO detection make this the perfect alarm for anyone who spends a lot of time traveling! A stick-on mount is even included in your purchase, so you don’t have to worry about where to store it.

Better still, this alarm will alert you of CO buildup in as little as one minute. That’s record time compared to many other alarms on the market!

All in all, this is the best carbon monoxide detector for those who travel or camp often and want to have that extra peace of mind.

4. Battery Operated Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Battery Operated Combination Smoke and Carbon MonoxideView in gallery

This battery-operated combination alarm is both simple and effective, offering many useful features in a user-friendly design. 

You can interconnect this unit with others to provide a sense of all-around safety. Not only does this interconnectedness ensure that you’re alarmed of CO anywhere in the house, but you can also program the device to give a voice alert that states the room or area of that buildup.

It features a photoelectric smoke sensor that decreases the likelihood of false alarms (because we’ve all burned dinner once or twice). It’s designed to filter out situations like that and pick up on issues that could actually threaten you.

This is a great unit for anyone who needs a budget-friendly CO alarm that doesn’t skimp on features.

5. Nest Protect Alarm-Smoke Carbon Monoxide Detector

Nest Protect Alarm Smoke Carbon Monoxide DetectorView in gallery

This beautiful piece of technology has everything you could want in a CO detector—and more. (Okay, it doesn’t play music, but…)

Unlike other alarms, which beep like the end of the world is coming at the slightest sign of smoke or CO, this one is programmed to calmly alert you with a very human voice. We guess Google realized what other companies did not: that people can’t evacuate their homes when they’re having a heart attack.

Related: The Best Programmable Thermostats Will Keep the House Cozy Without Costing a Bundle

This device also has a unique ‘light ring’ that turns yellow in minor smoke or CO situations (like getting dinner a little burnt) and red when there’s a real emergency on your hands. You’ll also appreciate its phone alert capability that will allow you to stay updated on your home’s status even while you’re away.

It’s a bit pricey, but we think you can see why!

6. Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm

Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detector AlarmView in gallery

While being able to play music from our CO alarms is pretty cool, nothing beats simplicity.

Whether you’re on a budget or just prefer the simpler things in life, you’ll love this battery-operated CO alarm from Kidde. This unit is the definition of ‘no-frills,’ yet it still provides effective CO detection for your safety and peace of mind. It also has a sleek, subtle design that will look great in any home!

7. Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm – with Digital LCD Display

Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm with Digital LCD Display and Voice Warning BatteryView in gallery

To end our list, here’s a smart CO alarm that won’t break the bank!

With such features as voice prompting and an easy-to-read LCD display, this alarm from ALERT PRO combines the beauty of simplicity with the necessity of high-end smart features. It’s great for both home and vehicle use and features an attractive design you won’t find on most comparable alarms.

This product has a five-year manufacturer warranty—during this time, you can return the unit for any reason and get your money back. So, don’t hesitate. Take the first step toward a safer home and purchase this top-notch CO detector today.

Conclusion

We hope this article provided you with the information and insight you need to purchase the best carbon monoxide detector for your home.

While we covered a range of products with varying features, keep in mind that safety and your personal preferences are the most important things. If you’d like, go through our list again and narrow down your options a bit. Because a CO alarm is such an important purchase, it’s important to get the one that’s most ideal for you and yours.