Table of Contents
- What is Carbon Monoxide?
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms
- How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?
- What A Carbon Monoxide Alarm Beeping Means
- What Are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide?
- The Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Going Off. What now?
- How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
- Choosing a CO Detector
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Let’s start by discussing what this substance is.
It is a potentially lethal gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. One molecule is composed of one carbon atom bonded to one oxygen atom. Because of its nature, it is also referred to as the silent killer.
A product of the partial burning of fuel gases, carbon monoxide will cause death within only a few hours of exposure. In a home, it is produced by propane, heating oil, and natural gas.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms
The fact that the senses cannot perceive CO makes it dangerous. This gas will attach to red blood cells within the human body, depleting them of oxygen after passing through the lungs.
Even worse, the early symptoms of gas exposure are very similar to those of the flu, with no fever and dizziness.
The most common signs are:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heart rate
After prolonged exposure, a person may go unconscious, suffer some brain damage, lung and heart failure, followed by death.
How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?
Different types of detectors used various methods to trigger the alarm. All of them will respond to an unusual amount of CO in the environment.
- Biomimetic detector. This type of sensor is a plastic strip with a blob containing silica gel with a catalyst. The poisonous gas reacts with this “blob” and makes it change color. The alarm detects this color change and goes off.
- Metal Oxide Semiconductor. In this type of detector, the silica gel causes a reduction in the electrical resistance, which, in turn, triggers the alarm.
- Electrochemical sensor. The gas comes in contact with the electrodes in a solution. This causes a change in conductivity that sets the alarm off.
What A Carbon Monoxide Alarm Beeping Means
It is essential to become familiar with the beeping sound of an alarm. When a sound comes off, the first thing to do is to stay calm, fresh, and pay attention to the type of beeping. After that, move out to safety.
Detector Beeps Three Times
Three beeps followed by an interval is standard in two-in-one smoke and CO detector alarms. When this happens, it is indicative that the unit has detected large amounts of smoke. This could mean that there is a barbecue in the backyard, and the smoke seeped into the house or that the cookies in the oven are long overdue.
If the alarm detects high amounts, it will beep four times and an interval. This is the time to clear the house and call 911. If anyone in the house shows symptoms of poisoning, a trip to the hospital is in place.
First responders or the fire department can help determine the source of carbon monoxide. If emergency responders cannot find any CO trace, then this could have been a false alarm. Contact the manufacturer to solve the issue.
Alarm Beeping Twice
When there is a double beep, this could be an indication that the device needs replacement. Most detectors have a life of five to seven years. If the purchased date can’t be remembered, check on the expiration date.
The expiration date may still not be due, and there still is a double beep. Visit the manufacturer if that is the case, as it could also mean there is a malfunction on the unit. Either way, the alarm must be in perfect condition at all times.
Detector Beeps Once in a While
Alarms beeping once in a while can turn annoying. When this is the case, there is a battery change needed. The time interval between beeps will depend on the model. House owners must be able to identify what this time is for the model being used. These are systems that must always be in check.
Some detectors will chirp every 30 to 40 seconds, whereas others every 60 seconds or more. This will usually last around seven days, after which the sensor goes dead. Always be mindful of replacing the batteries as soon as possible when this is the case.
Besides the main signals specified above and depending on the manufacturer, there are other signals that users should know about. They are not that many as things should be kept simple.
- 1 beep at 15-minute intervals – time to change the battery.
- 5 beeps at 15-minute intervals – this means that the device has reached the end of its useful life in some models — time to replace it with a fresh one.
- Loud, steady alarm – a dangerous concentration of CO has been detected, and it is time to evacuate the premises. Some carbon monoxide detectors will beep intermittently.
Always keep the user’s manual handy to verify the types of sounds and what each one means.
What Are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide?
Ever wondered what causes carbon monoxide detectors to go off? Perhaps the most well-known source of this gas is cars and motorcycles exhaust. But a home also has appliances and products that burn partially and produce this “silent killer.” These may include heaters and chimneys.
The following are familiar sources at home:
- Gas stoves and ranges
- Blocked flues
- Charcoal grills
- Water and air heating systems
- Wood-burning stoves
- Cars and motorcycles
Whenever using stoves or fireplaces, it is crucial to use them in a well-ventilated area. Open windows and let the air circulate through them. If the car is getting heated during winter, make sure there is a vent in the garage for the smoke to go out.
The Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Going Off. What now?
So, the CO detector went off. Now what?
Due to habits or lifestyles, or even the place where one works or usually travels through, the sound of an alarm might not trigger the feelings of the danger they are supposed to instill. But when it comes to this particular kind of alarm going off, ignoring it or not acting upon it might be the difference between life and death.
In other words, when these types of products go off, or the CO detector goes off in the middle of the night, there is no ignoring them.
So, what to do if the carbon monoxide detector goes off? These are the steps to take:
1. Evacuate the House Right Away
Instinctively, this is the very first course of action. Levels of CO inside the house have become toxic, and people must go outdoors immediately after the alarm goes off.
If exiting the house or building is not possible, crack as many windows and open as many doors as possible. The gas will dilute with the air.
Keep in mind that this action, albeit urgent, should be done calmly, especially in places with many people. Everyone should move fast to avoid breathing the toxic air.
2. Call the Emergency Number
Once everyone is outside, call the local emergency number (911) or the fire department. Make sure everyone outside the house is accounted for. If there is suspicion that someone might still be inside, do not re-enter the premises. Wait for first responders to arrive at the place and let them know there could be someone still inside.
Firefighters are equipped with the appropriate gear to identify the first symptoms of CO intoxication. Also, they are trained to detect the source of the leak and stop it.
There is a chance that the alarm went off due to a malfunction. But it is not anyone’s position to figure that out first. One must never be afraid of calling the emergency services at the sound of these beeps. Even if it were a malfunction that triggered the alarms in the end, the necessary steps to prevent a potential catastrophe were taken.
3. Get an Inspection for CO
There might be some untraced sources in the house or building that need to be taken care of. Hire an inspection team to find, repair, and replace any source of CO.
Keep in mind that there are several potential sources in a house.
These may include:
- Water-heating systems
- Gas ranges
- Wood burning stoves
- Any other source of partial fuel burning
A leak in these happens when the appliance is not working correctly or needs to be replaced. A team of experts will pinpoint all causes and sources of leaks. Try to get a preventive assessment before winter starts. This is the season of the year in which heaters, chimneys, and other heat-generating devices are used the most.
4. Give the Detectors at Home a Check
Having a broken detector is worse than not having one. Even if there was a false alarm, check them regularly. If the alarm malfunctioned, it means that either a part must be replaced or the entire piece itself.
Those alarms that are plugged into an outlet should be checked every month to ensure the wiring is in place. If battery-operated, replace them once a year.
Often, families put themselves at risk for not giving their device the proper maintenance or not installing one altogether. This is a life-threatening risk that can easily be prevented by taking small cautionary measures.
The apparatus will signal when it is time for a replacement. The average life of one is usually 5-7 years. As a security precaution, experts recommend changing them every 5 years.
A detector older than seven years has a high risk of malfunctioning and putting everyone inside the house or building at risk.
5. Check Appliances From Time to Time
Most of the time, leaks occur due to the poor performance of devices as a result of low or no maintenance. Appliances that are too old will not work correctly and emit gas as a result of not burning fuels correctly. This is why it’s vital to check leaks if ever moving into an older house.
If there is a chimney in the house, make sure to keep it clean. Accumulation of soot and ash causes clogging, releasing carbon monoxide as a result. If the vent is clogged, it will not allow smoke to go out, bringing it back into the house. When this happens, the gases in smoke, CO included, take the place of the oxygen. People in the room will start breathing the lethal gas without them knowing.
CO detector going off, but no gas appliances to account for it? This is actually common in apartment buildings.
How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The risk is there, but, thankfully, it can be prevented. Of course, always have a detector installed for safety. Also, take into consideration the following tips to reduce and prevent the hazard:
Do Not Use a Heat Range as an Air Heater
Heat ranges are the most common appliances used for cooking. People usually call it a stove (stovetop and oven) connected to its gas supply. These stoves can produce lethal gas.
Don’t Keep the Car’s Engine Idling in the Garage
Keeping the car’s engine idle for a while helps it stay warm during winter and prevents it from stalling. But when a car runs, one of the poisonous gases is CO.
When this is done, the car should be outside the garage to prevent a buildup of gas inside and entering the house.
Have Proper Ventilation All the Time
Handling and using gas-powered equipment in closed spaces such as a basement is dangerous if there is not enough ventilation.
Cook Safely While Camping
Keep all gas cookers such as a camping stove or hibachi outside the tent. Enjoy the wilderness with safety and let all that gas dilute out into the air. It is also not a good idea to have a burning appliance inside a tent.
Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Install a sensor in every room of the house. They are affordable, easy to install, require little maintenance, and can save lives.
Choosing a CO Detector
These devices are easy to find and install, but there are many varieties and types. This might complicate the process of acquiring one a little bit, but there is nothing to worry about. They are all reliable, and differences rest mostly on size, beeping times, and power source.
What Kind of CO Detector is Particularly Convenient?
This will depend on the size of the rooms and how many are in the house or building. One unit per room should suffice. The important thing here is to place them in closed areas with a higher risk of trapping in the toxic gas.
The simpler models either use batteries or are plugged in and emit a very loud sound when triggered, just like a smoke alarm. These are cheap and can be placed in every room in the house.
If a house already has smoke detectors, perhaps it is good to swap those for units that detect both smoke and carbon monoxide. These models are a bit more expensive, but they will reduce the number of devices on the walls and ceiling.
There are also smart models that work with a mobile app. These are the most expensive ones, and they emit an alert to the user’s phone whenever there is danger; A great option that adds extra security for pets and kids.
What is the Best Place for a CO Detector?
The best spot is at least 15 ft from any fuel-burning appliance, such as a chimney or gas range. There should also be one set in the garage, on every house level, and inside sleeping areas.
Take a Look at the Following Tips for the Best Experience:
- Make sure nothing is obstructing the unit.
- Don’t place it next to windows and doors (except the door connecting to the garage) or on dead air spaces.
- Vacuum the unit every month to remove any dirt buildup.
- Make sure the sensor is working properly by testing it every week.
- If there is only one available, this should be placed in the main room or the hallway.
How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors are Needed?
Local laws may have regulations on how many must be installed. The chances are that there will need to be one in every room. This is the safest way to protect the family.
Most states, however, allow one sensor for multiple rooms. In this case, the sensor should be installed in the shared hallway.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Give False Alarms?
If a detector is working correctly and undergoes frequent maintenance, it should not produce a false alarm. However, some factors may mistakenly trigger it, such as a wrong location, humidity, or substances in the air that cause fumes.
How Often Should You Test and Replace Your CO Alarms to Make Sure They Are Working?
To ensure safety and proper working, units should be checked at least once every month. In the case of batteries, these should be replaced every 6 months. As for the detector itself, as mentioned earlier, they have a limited useful life. Ideally, they should be replaced every five years. If a sensor keeps going off for no reason, get it serviced or replaced.
Does Opening Windows Get Rid of CO?
Opening windows will help dissipate the CO already in a room. However, this process will take more than half an hour. If an alarm goes off in a room, the first move is to evacuate the premises immediately.
Keeping the windows open at all times will allow air to flow and prevent the toxic gas from lingering inside the room and reaching dangerous concentrations.
How Long Does it Take to Air Out a House With CO?
When the alarm goes off, it is important to open all doors and windows to allow the air to vent out the CO. The airing out of the house can take up to three hours depending on the house’s size and how much fresh air can flow through. This is a ballpark figure, though – it could be less. Before entering the house, make sure professionals verify that the house is CO-free.
Can You Recover From Carbon Monoxide?
Yes, it is possible. A person exposed to mild amounts of the gas will usually experience recovery once taken outdoors. If there were a moderate or severe exposure, a person would experience the symptoms described earlier.
Once driven to the hospital, it will take around 4 hours for the gas to completely leave the body.
Can Low Levels of CO Detectors Make You Sick?
If a person was exposed to low levels of CO during an extended period, symptoms like headache and fatigue might appear. In some cases, even nausea and vomiting.
However, if a person is exposed to low gas levels during a very short period, ventilating outside will be enough.
Rounding it all Up
Carbon dioxide poisoning is a potential risk for a family living in a home with fuel-burning appliances. This risk is even more significant in apartment buildings where faulty devices in one household can affect other sections. Hence, it is imperative to install at least one detecting device and make sure it is well-maintained.
A CO detector is inexpensive, easy to install, and can be a lifesaver. Installation of these units is a must in all homes. There should be one in every sleeping room, garage, attic, and basements for extra security.
Did your carbon monoxide sensor save you from poisoning in the past? Are you giving it proper maintenance? Let us know in the comment section below.