How do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

Where does Carbon Monoxide come from?

All homes should have a detector for carbon monoxide (sometimes included in a smoke detector), which is an odorless and colorless compound that can be very deadly. Carbon monoxide comes from any appliance that burns fuel, such as a furnace or water heater. It makes its way into the house usually when a vent becomes blocked or there is a crack. It is important to inspection all vents and flues as a part of routine maintenance.

how a carbon monoxide detector works
Photo credit:Carbon Monoxide Survivor

Carbon monoxide will also come be produced from any power tools that burn gasoline. Although it will be in smaller amounts, it is still important to have proper ventilation. Avoid using these tools in confined spaces. Carbon monoxide in small amounts can still make you sick.

How do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

There are three common forms of detection nowadays: gel sensor, electrical resistance, and electrochemical. The gel sensor utilizes synthetic hemoglobin, which will change colors in the presence of carbon monoxide. A light sensor sounds the alarm when the color of the hemoglobin turns dark.

The electrical sensor versions utilize thin wires mounted on a ceramic base that insulates the metal. Carbon monoxide increases the conductivity of the wires and allows electrical current to flow. The alarm will trigger once enough current is detected.

The last form of detection is the electrochemical cell. It works in a similar fashion to a battery but will produce no current without the oxidation of carbon dioxide. Sulfuric acid is used as an electrolyte to react with the carbon monoxide. The products from this chemical interaction (oxygen and carbon dioxide) flow to the two different electrodes and create an electrical potential. As the potential builds the current will increase and trigger the alarm.

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Tyler Golberg

Tyler is the founder of Home Maintenance Tracker and a writer for HomeSpot HQ, an easy to use tool for managing maintence and projects for every house.