ALERT Learn More | NASP Certification Program: The Path to Success Has Many Routes. Choose Yours

So, Your Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Going Off?

By Rob Chernish
Published: October 30, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2023 02:50:27
Key Takeaways

Carbon monoxide detectors are life-saving devices, but only if their warnings are taken seriously.

Source: Angela Farley/

Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors were initially prevalent in oil fields and mining operations. Then, we started seeing them on city workers whose jobs brought them in close proximity to power plants and gas facilities. Now, they've been so widely adopted you can find them mounted in many homes and offices.

CO monitors have become standard and it's increasingly likely that you work or live one. But you might still not entirely be sure what to do if you hear it go off.

In this article, we'll cover that and a few other things that will help you get the most safety out of your carbon monoxide detector.


Make a Plan

A carbon monoxide detector works by analyzing the air around you to detect harmful levels of poisonous gas. When it picks up on a reading, an alarm sounds and you must make your way to safety. But it's a good idea to decide ahead of time where your safe location will be.

If you're on a jobsite, it's best to choose a safe zone (or muster point) that is located upwind from the building to prevent any further exposure to CO. In more extreme environments, you may also need to have a gas mask nearby that you can grab and don before making your exit.

(Learn more in SCBA 101: Meet the Respirator That Will Save Your Life)

Choose the Right Detector

There's no such thing as "the best carbon monoxide detector," there is only the best monitor for your particular situation. The right choice will be based on the risks in your environment and the features you will need to stay safe. The type of CO detector that would do just fine in your home wouldn't be well suited for something more heavy-duty like a confined space environment.

Some styles of detectors include:

  • Combined Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector: Combines two very common types of atmospheric hazard detectors.
  • AC Style / Plug-In Style: A CO detector that plugs into a normal wall adapter.
  • Spot Detectors / Portable / Handheld: When it comes to spot detection, these units can be great for emergency personnel using gas masks to locate leaks.
  • Digital Readout Detectors: Commonly used in residences, these display a digital readout so you can monitor your air and see whether CO levels are increasing or decreasing.
  • Hardwired / Interconnected: Commonly used in offices, these operate through a direct wire, giving it power and usually a backup supply. It is typically interconnected to the other alarms in the building as a way to facilitate emergency response. When one alarm goes off, they all do, triggering evacuation procedures.

(Find out How to Set Up an Evacuation Plan)

Carbon Monoxide in the Home

There are a number of carbon monoxide sources in the home, including fireplaces and furnaces, water heaters, space heaters, and gas stovetops. Leaving a vehicle running in the garage will create a danger zone for the buildup of carbon monoxide, which can fill the garage and then leak into the home.

To make sure you remain safe, check your CO monitor every month to make sure it is still working. Replace batteries as needed.

What Should You Do If Your Alarm Goes Off?

When you hear the carbon monoxide go off in your home, your first step is simple: get outside and into the fresh air as quickly as possible. Then call 9-1-1 and wait outside for the emergency responders to arrive.


If you're at work and you have a respirator with contained air supply, put it on and follow these steps to prevent the leak from releasing more CO:

  1. Shut down all your fuel sources, including heating and gas lines
  2. Bring in fresh air by opening windows, doors, and vents
  3. Call emergency services. starting with the fire department
  4. Make sure everyone in the area is accounted for
  5. Make your way to the muster point and stay clear of the premises until official clearance has been announced
  6. Call an emergency service that deals with the appliance that could be leaking


Share This Article

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

Written by Rob Chernish

A writer from Canada with firsthand experience in Oil, Gas, Mining, and environmental safety.

Related Articles

Go back to top