We all know about smoke detectors and how they can save lives in the event of a fire, but why do I need a carbon monoxide detector in my home?
If you have any fuel burning appliances such as the stove, the furnace, the hot water heater, or anything that you use in your home that runs on fuels such as natural gas or propane, then you need a carbon monoxide detector.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
It is a colorless and odorless gas that is a byproduct of fuel burning. When in an enclosed area the gas can build up in your blood without you realizing it right away and cause serious health issues even at a low level.
It gets into your blood and interferes with your ability to carry oxygen and you will get sick quickly and since confusion is a symptom, you may not realize at all what is going on other than you think you have the flu.
Can You Smell It?
No you can’t. I used to think you would be able to tell if there was carbon monoxide building in the home, but you truly cannot.
I should have known better, but I was lucky that it was not any worse than it was. We were building our house and like most modern houses now, they are very tightly sealed to save on energy costs.
It was getting really cold out, and it was late November. The frame of the house was built, insulated, all windows were in and roof etc.. so house was pretty well sealed up. The furnace was being installed and was not on yet, so the plumbers we hired had set up in the basement to finish their roughed in plumbing.
A Kerosene Heater Was Going to Heat the House
They had setup a small kerosene heater and they also had their gas tanks for doing their soldering etc.
This all seemed pretty harmless, there was a small window at the other end of the basement open, but obviously this was not enough and they were at the house for hours.
I was upstairs with my brother in law and we were trying to get the tiling done in the entrance way not far from the basement opening.
He asked me if I had any Tylenol as his head was pounding, and one of the plumbers came upstairs and asked the same thing. I went out and got some Tylenol and everyone went back to work but no one was really accomplishing anything. Everyone was a bit headachy and basically not thinking straight. The small heater was keeping the house toasty warm, so you know it had been going for a long time.
At that point my sister arrived to do some finishing wiring as we were under the gun to move into this house as we had been living in a RV and the weather was changing rapidly to winter conditions. She is a qualified electrician.
She thought it seemed very warm in the house, and then she mentioned to me that she had picked up one of these plug in style carbon monoxide detectors until she could wire ours in properly.
plug in style
She plugged it in, and it instantly started beeping. She unplugged it to check that it was working OK, then plugged it back in and it went off again. She ran out and got her more detailed tester and the carbon monoxide was building in the house.
We were all told to get out, and the little heater the plumbers were using and their tanks were turned off, and we aired the place out.
We were stunned that this little kerosene heater the plumbers had set up and them using their gas tanks were enough to create the carbon monoxide in the house. The basement was obviously worse, and that is why the plumbers were the first to complain about headache and nausea, and then my brother in law.
I didn’t really notice symptoms because I was running in and out of the house. But this will show you just how easily this gas can build up in your house without you realizing it.
Why You Need a Carbon Monoxide Detector in Your Home
You need proper ventilation, and obviously this one little window open was not enough oxygen to vent out the gas, and since it was really cold outside they had not wanted to open much more. Plus it had been going all day, so it had a chance to start building downstairs and up the stairwell.
I was actually amazed the plumbers didn’t fall over sooner! They didn’t realize just how well sealed out house was.
So the lesson here is that if you must run any kind of fuel heater or appliance that is not vented outdoors that you need a lot of cross ventilation. Keep this in mind if you tend to use a kerosene or propane heater in the winter if the power goes off. You MUST have fresh air into the room.
We always have Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Combination Detectors in our houses now
It happened again just earlier this year in our present house. My hubby was in the attached garage doing some work and he had the propane heater going on low to take the chill off the unheated garage area.
hard wired in style
He had the garage door open a crack, but he kept coming into the house (interior door attaches to basement laundry room) to work on something in there too. After a few hours we heard the carbon monoxide detector go off in the laundry room. The gas was actually building in the garage and wafting into the house when he opened the door.
Believe me, it does not take much.
Most Modern Gas Equipment Will Turn Off without Proper Ventilation
The more modern appliances will simply not work if there is a problem, but do you want to depend on that?
We have a rental house, and the tenant told me the water heater was not staying very hot. The pilot light would not stay lit. I got the water heater company in to check it out, and there was a dead bird in the vent pipe. It must have fallen in at the roof all the way down to the basement and when they opened the vent pipe there it was blocking the vent.
Luckily for us, the pilot light would not stay lit as this was a modern water heater, but we also had a carbon monoxide detector just in case.
Replace Older Gas Appliances
The more modern ones are built to stricter rules, especially when it comes to gas furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, stoves and others.
Get them checked annually by professionals, for your peace of mind, as well as the roof. The bird had fallen down the vent pipe where the cover had come away slightly. Unless you are on your roof all the time, you may not find something like this out until too late.
So why do I need carbon monoxide detectors in my home? If you have fuel to your house then you need them for peace of mind, and your good health.