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jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 10:04 AM
Last night at 3 AM, a carbon monoxide alarm went off in my house. As soon as I opened the bedroom door, it stopped. I thought maybe it was a fluke, but I figured I'd check things out. I went into the basement and saw lot of soot around the boiler (side note: never saw a boiler before living in New England; the combined boiler/oil tank deal strikes me as very primitive). I'd heard the oil-based boilers aren't typically a CO threat, but I shut it off anyway (turned off the circuit breaker so it couldn't turn on).

I opened the windows in the basement, opened windows in the house, brought our daughter into our bedroom, closed the door and put towels under it, cracked the windows, and turned on an electric heater. I didn't think it was necessary - I thought the alarm had misfired - but my pregnant wife was worried so I did all that to appease her. Even if there was a CO problem, the open windows and the now-quiet but still functional CO alarm meant to me that we were OK, esp. in the sealed-from-the-rest-of-the-house bedroom.

Called the service tech at 8 AM. The house at this time, outside the bedroom, was at 40F (4C). Fun. I thought I'd been paranoid for no reason and had just frozen us without cause (plus caused everyone except my daughter, who could sleep through a war, to lose half a night's sleep).

The tech arrived and said that there had been a failure in the boiler that had slowly coated the exit until it was finally blocked, that a fail-safe had, ironically, failed, and that, in fact, there likely was a big CO buildup which had just started to reach the upstairs (we sleep on the 2nd floor) - he said the alarm probably stopped when fresh air from the bedroom lowered the CO to an acceptable level and that opening the windows kept it safe. If we did not have the CO alarm, I have no idea what might have happened.

Typically, our daughter gets up before us, goes downstairs, and turns on the TV, then I follow groggily a while later. Had we not had the alarm, there is a very real chance that the CO buildup might have been fatal, esp. downstairs and possibly upstairs, and that at least one of us might not be here any more.

I will be buying more CO alarms today. The one we had was really a fluke - a combined smoke/CO alarm cost only a few dollars more, so I got one and put it by the bedrooms. I didn't think we really needed one. Fortunately, our house is so tiny that it was sufficient - a larger house might have filled the downstairs with a deadly amount of CO without triggering an upstairs alarm.

If you've been putting off buying one, and there is any flame-based heat (including ovens or ranges) in your home, ever (even if your heat isn't typically needed), I strongly recommend buying CO detectors. There is a very good chance that ours spared my family from, at the very least, becoming sick. It might very well have saved our lives.

gwuMACaddict
Mar 3, 2005, 10:07 AM
wow :eek:

SO relieved to hear that you and yours are ok today! We have detectors installed in several places in our house... Excellent reminder though... Glad you're ok :D

emw
Mar 3, 2005, 10:13 AM
Wow is right. So glad to hear all is okay - that would have been devastating.

We've got a couple in the kid's rooms, but since our only gas appliances - the water heater and furnace - are now less than 3 years old, we figured that was enough.

I'm rethinking that right now. I guess I have another errand to run tonight!

I've heard conflicting reports as to where the best place to locate them is, but I think as long as they are somewhere in the rooms, then it will be fine. We just need to keep our youngest (16 months) from continuing to pull them out of the wall.

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 10:20 AM
Wow is right. So glad to hear all is okay - that would have been devastating.

We've got a couple in the kid's rooms, but since our only gas appliances - the water heater and furnace - are now less than 3 years old, we figured that was enough.

I'm rethinking that right now. I guess I have another errand to run tonight!

I've heard conflicting reports as to where the best place to locate them is, but I think as long as they are somewhere in the rooms, then it will be fine. We just need to keep our youngest (16 months) from continuing to pull them out of the wall.
I'd thought that CO was always low-to-the-ground, but the tech said that it can fill up a house pretty easily. It might be better to put the monitors low, but it's better to have them anywhere as opposed to not having them at all - ours was on the ceiling, upstairs, and it picked it up faintly (which is why it stopped so quickly and why I thought it was a fluke). I'll be putting in more in various places, including, obviously, the basement.

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 10:24 AM
Also, it's entirely possible that there wasn't a major CO threat, that the detector did malfunction, and that I happened to go to the basement to see the soot just as the boiler had really started to fail.

However, that seems to be too much of a coincidence. And the chimney/boiler exit was completely blocked, and the fail-safe was broken. Regardless, though, I'm getting more detectors today.

clayj
Mar 3, 2005, 10:33 AM
Everyone should have at least one CO detector in their home. And I believe, based on the two examples I'm about to provide, that all GARAGES should be equipped with CO detectors.

Here in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County), all residences are now legally required to have CO detectors, because of this incident: Several years ago, there was an incident (in a series of townhouses just one block from where I live) where a drunken fool drove home, parked his car in his garage, closed the garage door, left the car running, and went to bed. The car continued producing CO, which infiltrated the neighboring townhouses through the shared walls... several people died, but not the guy who left his engine running (he's now in prison, convicted of manslaughter).

And in late 2003, a friend of mine (we roomed together for 5 months back in '98-'99 in Seattle) died the same way... he drove home, parked his car, closed his garage door, and then fell asleep in the car with the engine running. He was found the next day when he didn't show up for work, didn't call in sick, and couldn't be reached.

In both cases, lives would have been saved if the garage door openers of those garages had been equipped with CO detectors which would not only sound an alarm, but also open the garage doors enough to allow the CO gas to escape.

killuminati
Mar 3, 2005, 10:43 AM
wow :eek: very scary story. I'm glad to hear you and you're family are ok.

In my house we have two detectors (one on each floor) but we've never had any of them go off. It's a very scary thing to think about though.

Dagless
Mar 3, 2005, 11:12 AM
our home doesn't have them but i keep telling my mum to buy a few just for the fireplace really.

but you think not having CO detector is bad; a mate of mine dosnt even have fire alarms which is quite... alarming... oh well.

also glad to hear you're alright :)

Lacero
Mar 3, 2005, 11:40 AM
We leave our windows slightly open when we go to sleep, even in the wintertime. The fresh breeze that comes in knocks me out and waking up, I feel very refreshed.

SiliconAddict
Mar 3, 2005, 11:54 AM
Already have one. Its upstairs. Predominantly that is where CO2 is going to be first detected or that is what minnegasco told us. Ill prob buy another for downstairs sometime this summer. Right now Im more concerned about radon. Weve never done a test for it in the house. :confused:

Doctor Q
Mar 3, 2005, 12:03 PM
We don't have a boiler. What else can cause a CO2 buildup? I don't know anyone in our area with a CO2 detector, and I'm wondering who really needs one out here in warm weather territory.

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 12:11 PM
We don't have a boiler. What else can cause a CO2 buildup? I don't know anyone in our area with a CO2 detector, and I'm wondering who really needs one out here in warm weather territory.
Apparently, anything with a flame can cause the problem (aside from, as mentioned above, cars in garages). If you have natural gas heating your water, your oven, and/or your range, it's a possibility. Obviously, oil-based heat also can create this problem. It's not a rampant issue, or you'd hear about it more often, but (having read more today) low doses of CO often present with headaches, nausea, etc., and might not be bad enough to lead to perceived permanent damage - but over time they can cause real damage. The CO alarms will go off before any damage is likely to have occurred.

emw
Mar 3, 2005, 12:11 PM
We don't have a boiler. What else can cause a CO2 buildup? I don't know anyone in our area with a CO2 detector, and I'm wondering who really needs one out here in warm weather territory.Really is carbon monoxide you need to worry about - CO - not CO2.

It's a biproduct of combustion, so could come from things such as dryers, gas stoves, water heaters, furnaces, cars, etc.

jackieonasses
Mar 3, 2005, 12:15 PM
We don't have a boiler. What else can cause a CO2 buildup? I don't know anyone in our area with a CO2 detector, and I'm wondering who really needs one out here in warm weather territory. I think it is CO not Carbon Dioxide...

Anyways- things malfunction sometimes, and even though we (warm weather people) don't need it, it is always a good and safe thing to have.



kyle

*edit* DANG! i am slow.....

Lacero
Mar 3, 2005, 12:18 PM
Most houses now come built with a boiler than runs hot water through either radiant pipes under the floor or heat deflectors. Most older houses the air is heated and vented into the living quarters. Annual inspection of the flutes and burners is a good idea.

stubeeef
Mar 3, 2005, 12:20 PM
Had a similar problem when living in Maine, came downstairs and couldn't see. luckily I was also on the 2nd floor and boiler in basement. No family then either. Happened Christmas morning, had family flying in that afternoon, called a service guy, could hear his kids squealing in the background, he came over right away! Gave him a huge tip!

I have electric everything EXCEPT ventless fireplace and hotwater heater (in garage), and therefore have them for that. I also don't leave it on at night.

Very happy to hear all is well, especially for your daughter, and thanks for sharing the need!

Blue Velvet
Mar 3, 2005, 12:31 PM
Very glad to hear that you and your loved ones are OK.

I've got a detector tucked away in the corner -- it has a 5 year battery... I hope to never hear its alarm.

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 12:31 PM
Annual inspection of the flutes and burners is a good idea.
Agreed. I had a false sense of security because the flue, chimney, and boiler had all been inspected and cleaned this past fall. Of course, in this p.o.s. 50-year-old house, I can't take for granted that anything will work correctly.

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 12:34 PM
Very glad to hear that you and your loved ones are OK.
Thanks!
I've got a detector tucked away in the corner -- it has a 5 year battery... I hope to never hear its alarm.
Tip from the service guy: test your CO alarms (if battery powered) every time you come back from a long break. Apparently, a family around here died a year or two ago when the CO alarms failed to sound because they had run down completely (due to a CO leak) when the family had gone away for a week and therefore were unable to warn them upon their return.

A nomadic life, living in tents, doesn't seem so bad now....

PlaceofDis
Mar 3, 2005, 12:40 PM
glad to hear that you are ok JSW and your family as well

my townhouse complex does not have any installed, i suppose i should complain to the management company that i pay rent to, maybe they would install them all who knows

however, everything that is run in these townhouses is electric, furnance, stove, dyer, everything, and there are no connected garages, parking is all outside, do we even have to be worried?

i honestly dont know that much about CO


again just glad to hear that you and your family are safe and sound,

i will definately be telling my parents to put one in their place now

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 12:44 PM
however, everything that is run in these townhouses is electric, furnance, stove, dyer, everything, and there are no connected garages, parking is all outside, do we even have to be worried?

It sounds like you shouldn't have to worry about it. The detectors aren't that expensive, but if you don't have natural gas, propane, or oil, and you don't have connected garages, it seems unlikely that you could ever have a CO problem. I suppose a gas grill improperly used on a balcony might cause a problem, but that's a stretch.

PlaceofDis
Mar 3, 2005, 12:46 PM
It sounds like you shouldn't have to worry about it. The detectors aren't that expensive, but if you don't have natural gas, propane, or oil, and you don't have connected garages, it seems unlikely that you could ever have a CO problem. I suppose a gas grill improperly used on a balcony might cause a problem, but that's a stretch.

there aren't any balconies either, just patios, so i dont think that there will be a problem, but like i said in my 80 year old house in Chicago, i will be picking up a couple for my 'rents and sister, heck myself when i move back there this summer, that place definately needs 'em. the furnance likes to act up, as does the stove.

stubeeef
Mar 3, 2005, 01:07 PM
This part of NC (winston salem) gets a good dose of ice storms, then power outages, we constantly hear of people dying from CO because they bring in the generator to the house, and or cut on the gas grill for heat and food. A real shame that this word is not out better.

Doctor Q
Mar 3, 2005, 01:22 PM
Yes, CO, not CO2. A CO2 detector would be going off quite a bit! :)

jsw
Mar 3, 2005, 01:25 PM
Yes, CO, not CO2. A CO2 detector would be going off quite a bit! :)
Just noticed - spurred by the fact it was Doctor Q posting - that CO looks a lot like ∞. Ah, numbers.

Applespider
Mar 3, 2005, 01:39 PM
Very glad that you and your family are OK. I don't have an alarm but I have a monitor button which changes colour since I was told that CO would take some time to build up. I'm now reviewing that (since I live in a Victorian conversion and have no confidence in the old flue boilers of my neighbours!). Thanks for the heads up

virividox
Mar 3, 2005, 02:28 PM
wow glad to hear u are fine. yeah anything to afford a bit of extra protection and peace of mind!!!

rainman::|:|
Mar 3, 2005, 02:34 PM
I too am glad to hear you're safe now. Such a frightening thing, invisible death. Wonder how many people have malfunctioning equipment that keeps CO levels high but not fatal, I know even mild CO poisoning can cause a plethora of symptoms, especially on the young...

Now, word of advice. My grandmother bought one of the little button indicators maybe 10 years ago, and I found it taped to the wall not long ago. Chemical-reactive "button" type detectors are meant to be examined and discarded after a specific period of time! I'm not sure if it's a day or a week or what, but they're no good after that. Perhaps there are button-style detectors on the market which do last indefinitely, but I don't know of any-- Fortunately electronic detectors are so cheap and reliable that they're easy to come by now. Few years ago, CO detectors were like $150...

And Victorian houses are surprisingly unlikely to be affected... The older a house is, generally speaking, the more drafty it is-- That's why it's important to watch out for CO after you weatherproof or insulate or make repairs, you can be closing up the ventilation.

I would disagree with the notion that most new houses come with radiant heating-- In well-to-do areas yes, but moderate- to low-income housing (which is the majority of housing in America) still use gas furnaces and waterheaters as standard. Radiant heat, whether artificial or geothermal is still pretty expensive. Personally, I miss gas cooking (electric cooking sucks once you've tried it) but I'd get rid of gas entirely if I could. But until I build my luxury mansion I have to put up with forced-air ;)

dobbin
Mar 3, 2005, 03:01 PM
This reminds me of when I was doing some work in my attic (fitting boards so I can store stuff up there). The flue from my boiler goes through the attic and I heard the boiler fire up while I was up there. A few minutes later I had a bit of a headache and I thought maybe it was due to the boiler somehow. I just came down and went up the next weekend to finish the job and never thought about it again until today.

My house is only 2 years old so I always assumed nothing will go wrong.

I'm going to look for a CO alarm next time I'm in B&Q though. I've got nothiong to lose by fitting one, and potentially everything to gain.

Thanks for sharing your story jsw, I'm glad you're OK.