What is your Carbon Monoxide Detector Saying?
Most of us know and understand the dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. You know – that odorless, colorless gas that will kill you at high levels after a significant amount of time. However, what you may not know is that CO poisoning can slowly poison your body with low doses over a large period of time. While the exposure may not be deadly, it can cause other serious health problems such as depression, chronic fatigue, fainting spells, blurred vision, and body weakness. Even with all this knowledge, many of us do not understand what our carbon monoxide detector is telling us, and even if we do understand, we don’t really have a plan for what to do when the detector goes off.
After working in the HVAC industry for over 2 years (no – I am not a technician), I have learned of the dangers of carbon monoxide and how common CO leaks put our homes and families in danger. About 2 years ago I purchased an awesome CO detector: the top of the line. I went home and installed the backup battery, plugged it in, forgot about it shortly thereafter. This last spring my forgotten CO detector started beeping at me and displayed a slew of numbers. Imagine a slightly annoying “chirping” sound, much different from the horrifying sound your smoke alarm makes after burning a bag of popcorn in the microwave. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was and I wasn’t too concerned because it only happened when I ran my gas dryer. In my mind, I believed that a CO leak would warrant a bigger reaction from my detector and that I probably just needed to clean my dryer vent again. This went on for months and continued well into the winter, but I noticed that the beeping started coming on every time the furnace ran. But in reality, I didn’t notice when it beeped, I just knew that when I ran my dryer I needed to crack a window or my detector would beep at me. I really wish that I could say I had gone to work and talked to a technician about what I was seeing, or had hired one of them to come out and check it but I didn’t. This went on day after day until one day my young son and daughter were at home, getting ready to leave for school. I received a phone call from them that the CO detector was going off with a very, very loud noise and that they had opened the kitchen window before leaving the house. I think my blood froze inside of my body and I literally felt sick and terrified. Sick because I wondered “what if I hadn’t had a detector,” and terrified that my children had been at home.
It wasn’t until recently that I found out what the intermittent beeps were and why it finally went off loud enough to get our attention – requiring immediate and lifesaving actions. Carbon Monoxide is measured in parts per million (ppm); which means that it is measured by the molecules of gas compared to the molecules of air. In short, my detector was alerting me to how much CO was accumulating in my home. Unlike a fire/smoke alarm that gives out a very loud distinct sound, my detector was alerting me to potential danger and telling me how many parts per million of carbon monoxide were building up, preparing to silently take our lives away and currently causing the frequent headaches and weakness. While Carbon Monoxide is detrimental at any level, it is almost impossible to maintain air free of CO due to the spillage of vented appliances. Fortunately, there is a standard deemed “safe,” which is between 1-70 parts per million (ppm) in a normal setting (well ventilated, with appliances properly installed and no exposure for a prolonged amount of time.) Make sure that your home is within these safe levels by installing a CO detector today.
**Watch for the rest of the series, explaining the dangers of prolonged minimal exposure to carbon monoxide, how to keep your family safe, how to get help if you suspect prolonged CO poisoning and the types of CO detectors; Good, Better, Best.