Saturday, January 12, 2013

What I learned about carbon monoxide today

We had a busy day scheduled at our house, and we started working early this morning. I put a few trays of granola into the oven to bake, and then I kept the oven on to dry some apples. (I had seen a cool idea on Pinterest for drying apple slices in the oven.)

About lunchtime, I was decorating Lauren's birthday cake when I heard a really loud, really annoying alarm coming from upstairs. We have at least a half-dozen hard wired smoke detectors in the house, and the one at the top of the stairs is a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It was beeping to alert us of high carbon monoxide levels.

Hmm... we just replaced the battery in this detector a few weeks ago when it started making the same shrill noise. The CO alarm could be silenced for about a minute at a time, but it wouldn't stop completely. We turn off the gas oven and the thermostats that control the gas heat. We opened the doors and the windows. The alarm still beeped.

At this point, we had so much fresh (cold) air flowing through the house that neither of us thought there  could still be dangerous levels of carbon monoxide left indoors.

I sent Tim and the kids to Target to get a new CO detector hoping to tell if we really had a problem or if it was just a problem with the CO detector. The new CO detector didn't alert. Then I read the full package directions for the new CO detector. At low levels, CO detectors can take several hours to sound an alarm. Hmm... we still couldn't know if there's a problem or if the new detector just hasn't been in our house long enough yet.

We decided to call the Fire Department to check things out.

They nicely checked the CO levels throughout the house and didn't find them to be elevated. The alarm is still going off. We eventually figured out that the CO detector has to be unplugged in order to reset itself after it sounds an alarm. The firefighters suspect the gas stove is causing a problem and call the gas company. A representative from the gas company checks everything out in our house and didn't find any problems. 

He did tell us his best guess as to what had happened. A gas oven does put off carbon monoxide while you are using it. Normally it's not enough CO to cause any problems. I had been using the oven for several hours this morning, though, and it probably was so long that the carbon monoxide built up and triggered the alarm. Thankfully, there are a couple of easy solutions. I can just use the oven for shorter periods of time. If I am going to use the oven for a longer period of time, I can run the vent fan in the kitchen so that the excess carbon monoxide is safely vented to the outside.

I'm thankful that everything checked out fine and that none of us suffered any ill effects from the carbon monoxide. I'm also thankful that we learned how to prevent problems in the future.

The next time I dry apples in the oven, I'll run the vent fan and hope that I don't have to call the Fire Department to check out another Carbon Monoxide alert.

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  1. I'm glad your fire department knew what they were doing. Before I was married, I was living with a friend in an old house in a very small, backwards area. Her carbon monoxide detector went off and she thought it was broken so she threw it out. Similarly to your experience, when she brought a new one in nothing happened, so she thought the first one was broken. When they couldn't wake me up the next morning, they got a little worried (I was the only one sleeping on the lower level). They got me out of the house and called the fire department. The firemen came in the house, sniffed, and one say, "I don't smell no carbon monoxide. You, Joe?" Joe said, "Nope, I don't smell anything either," and that was the end of their investigation!!!! :-)

  2. that must have been a little nerve-wracking! Good info to know!



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