CO Alarm 101: Does A Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Propane?

Indoor Air Quality, Safety, Uncategorized

A fully functional carbon monoxide detector is a real lifesaver if you have fuel-burning appliances in your home. Since most Americans use gas-powered machines such as furnaces, heaters, ovens, stoves, dryers, and fireplaces, anyone can be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning right at their very home.

But how about propane leaks? Do carbon monoxide detectors detect their presence in houses and other structures? How can you secure your family’s safety from the risk of getting harmed by the effects of propane leaks?

Many believe that a CO detector detects many gases. So does a carbon monoxide detector detect propane? Let’s find out if that information is legit.  

DP does a carbon monoxide detector detect propane

Can Carbon Monoxide Detectors Detect Propane Gas Leaks?

NO. Most carbon monoxide detectors DO NOT detect propane in your home, nor can they determine the presence of propane leaks. A propane or combustible gas detector is the most efficient device to detect propane and other dangerous gas leaks in your home.

Carbon monoxide detectors detect dangerous levels of CO in a residence or office building. While propane can produce carbon monoxide if it goes through incomplete combustion, a carbon monoxide detector is not designed to detect the presence of propane and other explosive gases because CO and propane are of different components and structures.

To protect yourself and your family from the dangers of carbon monoxide, propane, and other hazardous gases, choose a multi-gas or hybrid alarm that detects carbon monoxide and other explosive gases such as propane. 

What is Propane Gas or LPG?

Propane is one of the most widely-used gas for residential and commercial purposes in the US, next to natural gas. Americans use at least 10 billion gallons of propane in a year, and 7 million households use propane for heating and cooking. 

These figures represent 2% of the country’s energy consumption. We are even the leading exporter of propane worldwide!

You may have known propane by a different name: liquified petroleum gas or LPG. It is because it can take the form of gas at room temperature, but in a pressurized state, it can turn into liquid.

Difference Between Propane and Natural Gas

Many are confused between propane and natural gas, and it is quite understandable. Propane can be a byproduct of processing natural gas or crude oil. Natural gas also contains a small percentage of propane. Both gases are also colorless, tasteless, and odorless.

But there are several differences between propane and natural gas. Propane is much greener or more eco-friendly than natural gas because the latter contains methane which is a greenhouse gas. Propane also provides more energy in terms of British Thermal Units than natural gas, 2,516 BTUs versus 1,030 BTUs.

Yet the biggest difference between propane and natural gas is their method of delivery. While natural gas is delivered through pipelines, propane delivery is through a portable tank. Because of this, households that do not have access to pipelines such as in the countryside or farms can have LPG tanks transported to their homes.

What is a Propane Gas Leak?

A propane gas leak can happen when propane discharges from the LPG tank or cylinder and onto your home or building. 

A potential gas leak may occur because of the following causes:

  • Broken rubber tubes that connect the propane tank to the burner of the home appliance
  • Misfitting of the regulator
  • Faulty fuel-burning appliances
  • Fail to monitor the spilling of food from a gas-powered stove, splashing food onto the burner

The Dangers of Propane Gas Leaks

While propane is considered one of the cleanest burning fuels, there are still risks involved if an LPG occurs.

Oxygen deprivation or asphyxiation is a common health hazard of an LPG leak. If propane reaches dangerous levels in a home’s breathing air, it can displace oxygen and makes it difficult for the persons who inhaled it to breathe. This is especially harmful to people with existing respiratory issues.

Symptoms of propane gas exposure are dizziness, headache, coughing, heart arrhythmia, diarrhea, muscle pain, numbness of the limbs, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and heart failure.

Even if propane is not poisonous by itself, touching liquefied propane can cause itchy and numbing of the skin or frostbite.

Finally, propane leaks can lead to explosions and fire. Because of its pressurized state, even a small amount of leak can trigger big and destructive combustion.

How to Detect a Propane Gas Leak

Since we now know the real risks of propane gas leaks, how can you detect a combustible gas leak in your home to protect your family and property’s safety?

Here are the signs there is a potential gas leak in your home:

  1. Whistling or hissing sound. Propane tanks can produce knocking, humming, and gurgling sounds. But specifically, watch out for hissing or whistling sounds because it is a clear indication of a leak. 
  2. Sulfur or rotten egg smell. Like natural gas, propane does not naturally have an odor, color, or taste. So manufacturers of LPG put chemical “odorants” so propane would be immediately detected if ever there is a gas leak. Mercaptan’s odor is often associated with the smell of a rotten egg, decomposing cabbage, or sulfur.
  3. Red or orange flames. Propane can take some space in place of oxygen causing the flame in a gas-powered stove to turn red or orange Be wary if your gas stove’s flame turns orange or red colors instead of blue. It is an indication that a gas leak is present.
  4. Soapy water leak test. As soon as a new propane cylinder is connected to a home appliance or you suspect a gas leak, perform a soapy water test by coating the tubes, hoses, and valves with a bit of soapy water. If it forms bubbles, there is a leak present.
  5. Use a propane detector. To certainly detect the presence of propane leaks in your home, it is best to install propane detectors, especially in areas where you have LPG cylinders in place. It can read dangerous levels of propane and sound an alarm to warn you of the dangers and take action. 

Carbon Monoxide Detector Versus Propane Detector?

In spite of the fact that propane is a common household gas, it is wrong to assume that it can be detected by a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide alarms alone DO NOT inherently detect propane, methane, or natural gas leaks. 

While it is true that carbon monoxide is a byproduct of burning fuels such as propane and natural gas, gas-powered appliances will only produce carbon monoxide if there is incomplete combustion that happens. 

Hence, the CO detector will only sound an alarm if the CO levels in the space reached dangerous levels.

Choosing the Best Propane Gas Detector and Alarm

Propane detectors can come in single-gas or multi-gas functions. 

You may have guessed that detectors with a single-gas function concentrate on detecting the presence of propane or carbon monoxide only. They are typically lightweight, compact, and easy to wear if they are the wearable type.

Meanwhile, multi-gas detectors can determine the presence of two or more gases such as carbon monoxide, propane, and natural gas. While they tend to have bigger screens than single gas function detectors, portable ones are still relatively light. 

Both single-gas and multi-gas detectors can come as portable or fixed.

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