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What is a CO2 Gas Detector and How Does it Work?

Carbon Dioxide CO2 Gas Detector

 How does a CO2 gas detector measure CO2?

Most modern carbon dioxide detectors use a non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) sensor that measures infrared light in a sample of air. This technology is useful as the amount of light that passes through the air sample is inversely proportional to the number of carbon dioxide molecules in the air.

How is CO2 Actually Detected?

CO2 gas detectors use an NDIR CO2 sensors that detects the presence of CO2 molecules in the air based on the absorption of infrared light.

As IR light passes through a sample tube of air, the CO2 gas molecules absorb a single band of IR light while letting other wavelengths of light pass through. At the other end of the tube, the remaining light hits an optical filter that absorbs every wavelength of light except the wavelength absorbed by the CO2. The remaining CO2 molecules are counted by an infrared light detector which sends an analog voltage to the sensor's circuitry. In this way, a carbon dioxide sensor can be said to "count" the number of CO2 molecules in the air.

Learn more about how a CO2 sensor works here

Do I need a CO2 gas detector?

If you are concerned about indoor air quality you should use a CO2 gas detector.

CO2 detectors are also used as a proxy measurement of indoor air quality. High levels of CO2 indicate poor air exchange. Poor air exchange is linked to room occupant discomfort as well as increased levels of mold, mildew, bacteria, particulate matter and viruses either floating in the air or carried on water droplets in the air. 

See our CO2 gas detectors that measure indoor air quality.

Is a CO2 gas detector the same as a carbon monoxide detector?

No. While both carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are important, they are very different. A CO2 detector will not detect CO, and vice versa. While both gases have some similarities they are very different.

One critical differentiator is that carbon dioxide is natural and non-flammable, while carbon monoxide is the product of incomplete combustion and flammable. While carbon dioxide can be naturally found in the earth's atmosphere, carbon monoxide is not.

Note that the density of both gases is also very different. CO2 is heavier than CO. For this reason, a CO2 detector should be near the floor while a CO detector should be placed near the ceiling to ensure proper detection.

Does a CO2 detector detect Natural Gas?

No, a CO2 detector does not detect a gas leak. A CO2 detector specifically monitors the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air, which is different from detecting gases that might be involved in a typical gas leak, such as natural gas (methane) or propane.

For detecting gas leaks, you would need a different type of detector, such as:

  • Natural Gas Detector: Designed to detect methane, the main component of natural gas.
  • Propane Detector: Specifically for detecting propane gas, which is commonly used in residential heating, cooking, and in recreational vehicles.
  • Combination Gas Detectors: Some detectors can identify multiple types of gases, including methane, propane, and other combustible gases.

Each of these detectors works by sensing the specific gas they are designed for and alerting you if the gas concentration in the air reaches a dangerous level. If you are concerned about gas leaks in your home or workplace, it is important to use the correct type of detector for the gas you are using.

Does a CO2 detector detect a gas leak?

A CO2 detector does not detect a gas leak. CO2 (carbon dioxide) detectors are designed to measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, not to detect gases commonly associated with gas leaks, such as natural gas (methane) or propane.

For detecting gas leaks, you would need a detector specifically designed for that purpose or a solution that can sense multiple types of gases including methane, propane and other combustible options. If you are concerned about gas leaks, it is essential to use the appropriate type of detector for the specific gas you are looking to monitor.

Here are additional key reasons:

  • Sensor Specificity: CO2 detectors contain sensors that are calibrated to detect carbon dioxide molecules. These sensors are highly specific to CO2 and are not sensitive to methane, propane, or other combustible gases.
  • Different Chemical Properties: Methane, propane, and CO2 have different chemical structures and properties. The sensors in a CO2 detector are not capable of detecting the molecular characteristics of methane or propane.
  • Calibration and Sensitivity: Gas leak detectors (for methane or propane) are calibrated to detect very low concentrations of these specific gases to provide early warnings of leaks. A CO2 detector is calibrated to measure typical ambient CO2 levels and is sensitive to changes within a specific range relevant to human health and comfort, not to the lower concentrations required to detect a gas leak.
  • Safety Mechanisms: Gas leak detectors often include additional safety mechanisms and are designed to trigger alarms at much lower concentrations of methane or propane than a CO2 detector would for CO2, ensuring early detection of potentially dangerous leaks.

To summarize, a CO2 detector is not designed to detect methane or propane because it uses different sensing technology, is calibrated for a different gas, and operates on the principle of detecting CO2 concentrations, not combustible gases. For gas leak detection, specific detectors for methane or propane are required.

Do CO2 detectors detect Carbon Monoxide?

No. A CO2 gas detector cannot detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas. Conversely, a CO detector will not detect CO2.

A CO detector sounds an alarm if it senses elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the air near a furnace or gas burning appliances.

Learn more about the difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide here.

What are the signs of high CO2 levels indoors?

While carbon dioxide is in the air naturally, in larger volumes (> 1,000 ppm) it can affect your health. For instance, excess CO2 can cause individuals to experience headaches, fatigue, nausea, asphyxiation, or convulsions. 

Fortunately, being aware of carbon dioxide concentrations indoors can help prevent negative health effects from occurring and create healthier lifestyles.

Here are 4 sources of carbon dioxide indoors, and how to lessen their impact:

  1. HVAC systems: HVAC systems are designed to control the atmosphere in a given environment by recycling air. But without proper ventilation, CO2 can build up. A CO2 sensor can warn against this.
  2. Fireplace: Carbon dioxide is one of several gases produced by combustion, which means indoor fireplaces can produce gas buildup if they are not ventilated properly. Installing CO2 monitors in your home and annual inspections can mitigate this.
  3. Crowds: Humans exhale approximately 1 liter of CO2 with each breath. More occupants in an enclosed area creates higher CO2 levels. This can be mitigated by opening windows to regulate ventilation and airflow, as well as have indoor air quality monitors in place to measure when CO2 levels exceed normal threshold.
  4. Smoking: CO2 levels in cigarette smoke are 200 times the levels in the atmosphere. Regular smoking indoors can also create consistent overexposure to carbon dioxide concentrations. By ensuring smoking is done outdoors you can be mitigate individual exposure.

Is there a way to check your CO2 levels at home?

RAD-0302 IAQ MINI CO2 Monitor l CO2Meter

By using a carbon dioxide detector or indoor air quality monitor like the IAQ Mini CO2 Monitor, you can easily and affordably measure carbon dioxide levels.

These devices also use a quality NDIR sensor that gives the device the ability to quickly measure the amount of CO2 in the air in real-time.

Should levels exceed the normal threshold the device will show instant visual/audible indication so you are alerted to ventilate the space and mitigate from harmful CO2 exposure. When it comes to CO2 levels in a home, many individuals also look to ASHRAE which sets standards in place for recommended indoor air CO2 concentrations.

According to ASHRAE, the recommended CO2 level in buildings should be no more than 700 parts per million (ppm) above the levels in the outdoor air. Since outdoor air in most areas is approximately 400 ppm, indoor CO2 levels should be no more than approximately 1,100 ppm.

Here are 3 benefits to improving indoor air quality with CO2 monitoring:

  1. Occupant Comfort- By utilizing an indoor air quality monitor, you can eliminate potential contaminants that directly influence poor IAQ. This includes CO2, CO, and particulate matter (PM2.5/10).
  2. Increase in Productivity - Studies have shown, that with less CO2 buildup many people find that they gain back productivity, focus, and energy - three main areas where poor indoor air quality often influences.
  3. Energy Efficiency - Utilizing CO2 monitors or CO2 air quality sensors when occupying space can provide you with proper ventilation indicators, making energy costs significantly lower!

See all our desktop CO2 monitors here.

Where should CO2 detectors be located?

This depends on your application:

  • Safety - Carbon dioxide detectors should always be placed 12 inches (30cm) off the floor.
  • Indoor Air Quality - Placement is less important, but is typically placed at 36 - 60 inches ( 90-150cm) from the floor.

What triggers a CO2 detector?

CO2 detectors are commonly triggered when the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air exceeds a predefined threshold level. This threshold is typically set to ensure the safety of individuals or employees within the space. Several factors can trigger a CO2 detector:

The primary trigger for a CO2 detector is often a high concentration of CO2 in the air. When the CO2 level exceeds the predetermined safe limit, the detector will be activated. In settings where CO2 is stored or used in compressed form, such as breweries or industrial plants, leaks from storage tanks, faulty lines, or equipment can also result in a sudden increase in CO2 concentration, prompting the CO2 gas detector to alarm.

Once triggered, CO2 detectors typically activate alarms or warning signals instantly in order to alert occupants and prompt appropriate action to mitigate hazard or personal harm from occurring.

How long will a CO2 detector last?

The average lifespan of a CO2 detector can vary depending on factors such as quality of the device, its components, usage, and overall environmental conditions.

The most common carbon dioxide detectors typically use nondispersive infrared sensors at their core and last anywhere from 10-15 years with proper use. 

What makes a good CO2 detector?

When it comes to purchasing or selecting your first C02 detector there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure the best quality product for your industry or application.

For starters, you want to have a detector that includes quality features and should look at CO2 detectors similar to purchasing a car. Not only do you want a quality product, you want an affordable cost, easy operation - and above all else the ability to ensure safety or air quality analysis.

Below are the top 5 features customers look for prior to purchasing any CO2 detector:

  1. Accuracy - including a high quality NDIR CO2 Sensor
  2. Audible/Visual Alarms - instant alarms that appear when indoor air CO2 levels exceed threshold
  3. Ease of Use - easy operation and low maintenance
  4. Meets Codes/Regulation - a detector that can meet specific ASHRAE IAQ standards or guidelines
  5. Resolution - clear and easy visual display of CO2 concentrations from a large LCD screen

For more information on CO2 sensing technologies or to speak to a CO2Meter expert, contact us at Sales@CO2Meter.com or 877-678-4259


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