What to do when your carbon monoxide detector goes off
Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is a natural and dangerous gas produced by fuel combustion. In high concentrations, it’s lethal. Due to being colorless and odorless, it is known as the “silent killer.” Every home, especially those with any type of fuel-burning appliance, should be equipped with at least one carbon monoxide detector per floor. But what should you do when your carbon monoxide detector goes off? Santa Fe Air’s carbon monoxide detector experts in Kansas City have all of the information you need.
You want to:
- turn off combustible appliances
- open windows or doors
- evacuate your home
- evaluate yourself and your family for signs of CO poisoning
- call for help
Let’s dive deeper into each of these steps and discuss the dangers of carbon monoxide.
Turn off all combustible appliances
If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, you likely have some kind of combustible appliances in your home. Common carbon monoxide sources include:
- clothes dryers
- water heaters
- furnaces or boilers
- gas or wood fireplaces
- gas stoves and ovens
- power tools
If you have these in your home and your CO detector goes off, turn the appliances off immediately.
Increase airflow if possible, evacuate, and call for help
Outdoor air is two to five times cleaner than the air inside your home, so if your carbon monoxide detectors are going off, it can help to open windows. Increase the airflow in your home to allow the CO buildup to dissipate more quickly. Don’t assume it’s safe if your alarms stop going off after opening windows. Whatever caused the buildup is still in your home and needs to be addressed before you can safely stay inside.
Related: Air Purification in Kansas City →
At this point, it’s important to go outside! You don’t want to expose yourself or your family and pets any longer than necessary if your home has elevated levels of carbon monoxide. Once outside, check everyone for signs of CO poisoning and call the fire department immediately.
Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when there is too much CO in the air and your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. The signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle, which is why it is so important to have your monitors! You could have CO poisoning if you experience any of the following:
- Dull headache
- Blurred vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion and hallucinations
- Loss of consciousness
Emergency responders are trained for CO emergencies and will be able to help in situations of CO poisoning. Firefighters have equipment that can allow them to find the source of the carbon monoxide leak or leaks. From there, you can call for service from a qualified technician to fix whatever the problem is.
How is carbon monoxide measured?
Carbon monoxide is measured in parts per million (PPM). Low levels of CO are anything at or below 50 PPM. Mid level is considered 51 to 100 PPM; high level is greater than 101 PPM if no one is experiencing symptoms. It’s considered dangerous if it’s 101 PPM or more and someone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning.
What’s so dangerous about carbon monoxide?
Why is carbon monoxide dangerous? Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can kill you within an hour, and CO is produced from every type of fuel combustion. Healthy people can withstand levels of 50 PPM for up to 8 hours before it’s considered an issue. There is something particularly sinister about carbon monoxide exposure, though.
As we mentioned above, symptoms of CO poisoning are subtle. Most people get headaches sometimes without thinking too much about it, after all, we all deal with stress in our daily lives. The same occurs with nausea. It can take a lot of persistent nausea to make someone suspect anything more than food not settling well.
Many guides point out carbon monoxide levels and their correlating symptoms. For example, if a healthy adult is exposed to 200 PPM of CO, they’ll likely develop headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness within a few hours. But 200 PPM is a pretty high concentration. What happens when someone is exposed to something between 50 PPM and 200 PPM for a long period of time?
The effects of long term CO exposure
In 2015, a post to a legal advice forum on Reddit started a wave of renewed attention on carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here’s a person who believes someone is repeatedly breaking into their home to leave notes, and they’re wondering what type of legal recourse they’ve got. One astute Reddit user saw through the situation because of their own experience with CO poisoning.
Shortly after, the user who posted the question updated with this post.
After evacuating the residence, his head cleared up enough that he was able to update on a few burning questions.
And finally, nearly a year after the original post, this comment was left when the situation was brought up in an unrelated post.
This story reveals the truly frightening nature of the “silent killer.” The level of CO RBradbury1920 was exposed to didn’t cause extreme physical symptoms, just a headache. Instead, their body was slowly replacing oxygen with carbon monoxide over a period of weeks. This resulted in paranoia and hallucinations. Without someone else recognizing the symptoms, it almost certainly would have led to death.
As heating professionals, we believe this story is the best demonstration of why carbon monoxide detectors are necessary. Even when the levels aren’t high enough to make you pass out and die within a few hours, exposure to elevated levels of carbon monoxide will damage your brain before you know what’s happening. Contact carbon monoxide detector experts in Kansas City if your home isn’t set up with reliable detectors and you want tips for the best options.
Does every home need a carbon monoxide detector?
When it comes to carbon monoxide, you can’t be too careful. Even if your home doesn’t have a fuel-burning appliance, it’s better to have your bases covered. Most homes in Kansas City use natural gas for heating because of our frigid winters, so our heating experts recommend all Kansas City homes have at least one carbon monoxide detector per floor.
Types of carbon monoxide detectors and how they work
In general, carbon monoxide detectors work by using different types of sensors to monitor carbon monoxide levels.
Biomimetic sensors are a biotechnology based sensor. A gel changes colors once high levels of carbon monoxide are detected, which triggers an alarm.
Metal oxide semiconductor sensors
Metal oxide semiconductor sensors work with the help of a silica chip and its circuits. When the sensor detects carbon monoxide, it lowers the electrical resistance and triggers the alarm.
Electrochemical sensors also use an electrical current but through electrodes immersed in a chemical solution. When the electrodes contact carbon monoxide, the change in the electrical current triggers the alarm.
With the expansion of smart home technology, there are now smart CO detectors as well. You can hook them to your home’s Wi-Fi and use voice control. Our carbon monoxide detector experts in Kansas City can help you determine the best choices for your home and make sure you know how to read your carbon monoxide detector.
How to prevent elevated levels of carbon monoxide
There are several steps you can take to ensure your home doesn’t have elevated levels of carbon monoxide to set your alarms off in the first place.
- The most important thing you can do to prevent carbon monoxide issues is to have qualified technicians service your gas, coal, or oil burning appliances every single year. To make this easier, we offer a convenient preventative maintenance plan for our customers.
- Avoid the use of portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- If you have a gas refrigerator that’s emitting an odor, have it serviced immediately as it can be a sign of a CO leak.
- Do not purchase any gas equipment without the seal of a national testing agency.
- Ensure your gas appliances are properly vented with vent pipes that slant upward as they go toward the outdoors.
- If you have a chimney, it should be cleaned and checked on a yearly basis.
- NEVER use your gas range or oven to heat your home.
- NEVER burn charcoal or use a portable gas camp stove indoors.
- NEVER run your vehicle inside of a garage attached to the house, even with the garage door open.
- Any generators running inside of a home should be less than 20 feet away from a window, door, or vent.
- Always have a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector nearby when using a generator in your home.
Keep your family safe from CO poisoning with Santa Fe Air
Along with having carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, you’ll want to make sure an HVAC professional checks that your heating system is working properly. The best thing you can do for your family is to prevent carbon monoxide from ever circulating in your house.
Santa Fe Air offers a variety of services to people in the Kansas City area from heating system check-ups to furnace repair to ensure that you won’t have to worry about your family’s safety. Schedule with the carbon monoxide detector experts in Kansas City today.