The Cost Of Installing Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Photo: Jeff Kubina/

A carbon monoxide detector, also called a CO detector, is a device that senses the presence of poisonous carbon monoxide gas. Elevated levels of this toxic compound cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal. Roughly 430 people annually die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in the US alone. However, carbon monoxide gas can also occur at non-fatal levels, and over long exposure periods it is still very harmful. Every year, tens of thousands of people become sick due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas which builds up in a home as the result of incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels. Furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, or any other appliance that runs on natural gas or fossil fuel can generate carbon monoxide. It may also accumulate when a car engine idles in an enclosed space, or when a fire burns in a fireplace with an obstructed chimney.

Because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, carbon monoxide gas will go completely undetected by our human senses. That is why it’s referred to as “the silent killer.” Luckily, carbon monoxide detectors prevent this from happening by tracking the percentage of the gas present in the air. If the levels become unsafe, the detector sounds an alarm.

Cost of installing carbon monoxide detectors

Installing carbon monoxide detectors does not have to cost a lot. For self-installation options you can choose a battery-operated or AC-powered unit, and some even come incorporated into smoke detectors. These are stand-alone devices, but you can also purchase a system-connected, monitored device which is wired to a security or fire panel and supervised by an off-site service. This sort of system-connected set-up must be installed by the manufacturer. Installation and maintenance costs can range from a few hundred dollars for low-cost systems to thousands.

The standard stand-alone units retail for roughly $15-$60, depending on the type. Stand-alone units can be installed by anyone, very similarly to a smoke detector, but of course you can also hire a handyman to do it, if you prefer. 

Where to install?

Carbon monoxide gas has roughly the same density as air, and so, unlike smoke, it does not tend to rise. This means that you can install your carbon monoxide detector near the floor or near the ceiling, or anywhere in between. However, you’ll want to make sure it’s at least 15 feet from any cooking or heating appliances. This will help to prevent a very noisy and annoying false positive.

Make sure you install at least one carbon monoxide detector on each floor of the house, and include one in every single sleeping area. Specific instructions for installation will vary by manufacturer, so carefully read the manual that comes with your detector.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very serious concern, but with a bit of forethought you can keep yourself and your family safe. And for that, installing carbon monoxide detectors is well worth the cost.

Sayward Rebhal writes for

Updated March 19, 2018.

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