A carbon monoxide detector is an excellent safety device that will save your life and your loved ones. It will alert you when the “silent killer” gas (carbon monoxide) is in high concentration within a room. Sometimes, you will notice that your carbon monoxide detector goes off in the middle of the night. Should you be worried?
Well, the sound of the device chirping in the middle of the night is unnerving and frustrating. It may cause panic in the room as its sound mainly indicates that you are in a life-threatening situation.
Sometimes it could go off for other reasons, which sounds like a false alarm. All in all, everyone dreads the day when their CO detector will go off in the middle of the night.
This article will address the critical actions you should take if the CO detector goes off in the middle of the night, how to address if the alarm is false, how to detect CO presence in a room, and how to prevent CO leaks in the room, among other FAQs.
What Should You Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off at Night?
A carbon monoxide going off usually indicates something is wrong somewhere; it could be a fire, a leaking gas in your kitchen, or anything imaginably dangerous.
For this reason, never ignore the sound of a carbon monoxide detector. Here are some things you ought to do when the carbon detector rings in the middle of the night:
- Once the CO detector sounds, the first and safest action is to remove yourself, your loved ones, and your pets from the environment where the detector is located. Move outside or to a place where there is fresh air. Also, please open the windows and doors in the house to ventilate them. While this may not prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, it will slow down the process and reduce the CO concentration in the environment. Also, it is important to notify other occupants living in the premises adjoined to your home. This is because carbon monoxide can seep through the walls and floors.
- Immediately call 911 and tell them that the alarm has gone off. They will send emergency help. You can also call a local gas-safe registered engineer to examine the source of carbon monoxide in your house.
- While the alarm may stop beeping after a while, do not go back into the house. This is because you are still trying to figure out what may have triggered the alarm or whether or not it has stopped producing the gas. CO could build up again while you are in the house leading to fatal outcomes.
- Once the emergency workers arrive, they will help identify the cause of the alarm, temporarily fix the gas source, and let you know if it is safe to go back into the house. Therefore, once they leave, take another safety measure by calling in qualified and licensed technicians to examine your appliances which could be the source of the CO gas.
- Go back into the house only when the emergency workers deem it safe.
NOTE: Inhaling carbon monoxide will prevent your blood from transporting enough oxygen into your body organs. The effects of this can be as dire as death.
However, it is not easy to determine when you’ve been exposed to high levels of CO since the effects come in the form of flu symptoms.
Therefore, if the CO detector goes off, check if anyone in the house has any signs of poisoning, carry out the appropriate first aid treatment, contact 911 or visit the emergency room as soon as possible. Here are the signs of CO poisoning you should look out for:
- Feeling light-headed, dizzy, or having headaches.
- Stomach upset characterized by vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Reduced muscle control
- Tightening of the chest
- Increased heart rate
- Extreme sleepiness. Sometimes it may lead to a person passing out
- Disorientation and confusion.
How Do You Know If Carbon Monoxide Is a False Alarm?
Carbon monoxide detectors would sometimes go off, even if there is no presence of the CO gas within an environment; we refer to this as a “false alarm.”
However, it is always safe to assume that your CO alarm is in perfect condition whenever it sounds the alarm. You should ensure that everyone vacates the home and troubleshoot the actual cause of the alarm.
You can identify if your CO going off is a false alarm by gauging the pattern of the beeps as follows:
- If the alarm beeps four times, accompanied by a pause, it signifies the presence of CO gas. Notify the occupants of the house immediately and exit the premise.
- One chirp after a minute signifies that the batteries are dying and thus need an immediate replacement.
- If it produces five beeps per signal, it signifies that the detector has reached its end of life and needs a replacement.
Simply put, pay attention to the beeping pattern of your CO detector to determine if it is an actual or false alarm.
While the sound of the detector beeping in the middle of the night could be a significant cause of panic and frustration, avoid panicking as the sound is usually a warning that something is amiss; thus, it gives you enough to check where the source of the problem is.
Listed below are some of the notable causes of a false alarm from your carbon monoxide detector:
- We mentioned earlier that it is important to notify other occupants in adjacent premises as the CO gas could have sipped through the walls and the floor. This could be a similar case that causes a false alarm. The CO gas could have penetrated through the walls or floor of a neighbor and entered your house through a joint loft space.
- Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to last about 5-7 years; others go up to ten years. Therefore, if the alarm has exceeded its life span, it becomes erratic. The detector may also go off if the device has achieved its end of life and needs a replacement. This is considered one of the most common reasons for false alarms from carbon monoxide detectors.
- The presence of moisture within the location of the carbon monoxide detector may also trigger a false alarm. For this reason, homeowners are advised against installing smoke alarms in areas with excessive steam.
- The type of charger used in charging the CO detector batteries could also trigger the alarm. In particular, the lead acid battery chargers usually produce hydrogen gas that sets off the CO detector. Consider this, especially if you are charging your caravan/boat battery home.
- Freshly screeded floors also emit gases that would trigger the carbon monoxide alarm.
- The type of carbon monoxide detector installed will also affect its ability to function as desired. Some carbon monoxide alarms are not compatible with some types of premises. For instance, ensure that your alarm is kitemarked BS EN50291-2 if installed in a caravan, tent, boat, or living quarters of a horsebox. This is because alarms tested to BS EN50291-1 can only be used in home environments. They are not suitable for camping or caravanning.
- Another cause of a false alarm from your CO detector is the presence of a heavy smoker in a room. Smoke from tobacco could offset the alarm, especially if it is poorly ventilated.
- The location of your home also influences how well your CO alarm functions. For instance, homes that are adjacent to jam-packed roads experience higher levels of CO concentrations. This is because of the traffic fumes that enter the house, which may, in turn, offset the CO detector.
- Your carbon monoxide detector is also likely to produce several audible sounds to indicate that your battery is low and needs replacement. It could also mean that there is a fault somewhere within the device. Therefore, always ensure that you read the device’s manual to interpret the different sounds it produces correctly.
- Dust and insects may trigger your carbon monoxide alarm unnecessarily. A lot of dust build-up in the sensor chambers can offset the alarm. Also, when an insect crawls into the unit, it will cause the alarm to sound.
- Lastly, most homeowners experience their carbon monoxide going off in the middle of the night because of temperature fluctuations. The low temperatures between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. can trigger the alarm.
You can control and reduce the chances of your carbon detector going off in the middle of the night by doing the following:
- Checking the manufacture date to determine the expiry date. If you notice that the device has reached its end of life, ensure that you replace it immediately, depending on the type and recommendation from your manufacturer.
- Ensure that your hardwired carbon monoxide detector is replaced after ten years. The battery-operated ones will last you for about five to seven years.
- If your carbon monoxide detector uses a replaceable battery set, ensure that you replace it at the recommended intervals. Regular testing is essential to ensure that your device functions for optimum protection.
- Also, do careful troubleshooting to determine other factors that trigger false alarms from your smoke detector, and use the approved prevention measures.
How Can You Tell If There Is Carbon Monoxide in Your House?
Common as it is, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, yet highly toxic gas. It is commonly found in home appliances and vehicles.
Therefore, burning fuel in vehicles, small engines like lawnmowers, water heaters, clothes dryers, grills, gas fireplaces, gas ranges, or gas furnaces will likely lead to the emission of carbon monoxide into the environment.
As harmless as it sounds, carbon monoxide gas can be deadly if a room lacks proper ventilation. Reliable sources confirm that more than 400 people in the U.S. succumb to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
More than 20,000 people often end up in the emergency room, while more than 4000 are hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Its colorless property makes the carbon monoxide gas more dangerous, as people can hardly suspect exposure until it is too late. This especially happens when one is not informed about the risks and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, hence the name silent killer.
Now, since carbon monoxide has no smell, color, or taste, it is paramount that you learn how to identify the signs of potential leaks. This will inform you on when to seek help and how to maintain safety. Here are some vital signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:
- Check for the location of the appliance and examine if there is a dripping or heavy condensation on the windows. This is a possible significant indicator, especially if you have attempted to reduce moisture production. However, this could also signify that the humidifier is set relatively high.
- You can also notice sooty-like or brownish-yellow stains around an appliance leaking.
- If the air smells stale, stuffy, or peculiar in general, that indicates something is burning or overheating.
- If you notice fumes, soot, or backdraft in the house from appliances such as the chimney, fireplaces, or other burning equipment.
- If the chimney flue lacks an upward draft.
- If you notice fallen soot around fireplaces.
- If your solid fuel fires are burning at an unusually slower pace.
- If you smell unusual gases in your house. How so? Isn’t the carbon monoxide gas odorless? Well, much as CO is odorless, it is often accompanied by exhaust gases that produce some smell.
- If you notice a pilot light that blows out frequently. Pilot lights are those small flames on furnaces, gas stoves, and water heaters. They are always burning to help prevent gas leaks in your home. Therefore, once you notice that these lights do not stay lit, or if they keep flickering, it signifies that carbon monoxide has built up around them.
POINTER: If the pilot light is blue, it could also signify that it is not burning as efficiently as it should and that CO has accumulated in the area around it.
- If your flame is yellow rather than the usual clear blue color. Note that this sign does not apply to natural gas fireplaces that are designed to generate the yellow flame for aesthetic purposes/
- If you notice people in your home experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. These are breathlessness, chest pains, fits, loss of consciousness, headaches, nausea, lack of muscle control, and confusion. The symptoms may vary depending on the gas concentration level in the house.
- If you notice that most of the mentioned symptoms of CO presence disappear once you are away from home.
- Check how your body behaves during a specific season. If you experience frequent headaches during winter when central heating is used more frequently, it could be due to increased CO presence in the area.
- You should be alert if your pets become ill out of the blue.
- If most of the mentioned symptoms appear or worsen when using fuel-burning equipment, this could be a reason.
- If you notice the bricks at the top of the chimney are damaged or discolored.
- If the flue pipes or appliance jacks are rusting.
NOTE: Ensure you take fast action once you notice any mentioned signs. Look out for the signs of the gas, such as forehead tightening, headaches, and increased heart rate.
A victim’s face may change to red, followed by dizziness, fatigue, and changes in the mental state if there is progressive poisoning.
However, high carbon monoxide concentration may make the victim unconscious even without feeling the early symptoms.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Now that we know how to detect a carbon monoxide leakage in the house, it is just as crucial to identify how to prevent the leaks. This know-how may save your life and your loved ones from adding to the 400-death figure statistic from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here are some of the ways we can prevent carbon monoxide leaks:
- Regular Inspection of your Home’s Heating Equipment.
Ensure that qualified and licensed professionals inspect your home heating equipment every year. This could also include gas appliances, chimneys, and vents.
Hire a qualified and licensed technician to do this for you, as they will comfortably address any leaks or problems. We consider this the safest defense against carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Avoid using grills, BBQs, or charcoal fuel burners indoors or in unventilated spaces. They easily create a breeding ground for CO build-up.
- Avoid using portable flameless chemical heaters indoors or in any enclosed area.
- Check your refrigerator to ensure that there is no leakage. If present, seek help from a qualified technician, as the leak could have been caused by carbon monoxide.
- When purchasing a piece of gas equipment, check to ensure that it bears a seal of a national testing agency.
- Ensure that you constantly check and clean your chimney. This is because the presence of dirt and debris may block your chimney, which will lead to CO building up within your house or cabin.
If you are uncomfortable cleaning the chimney yourself, hire a professional service. They will ensure that the job is done as effectively as possible.
Also, always ensure that you open the flue and wait to close it until the ashes feel cool whenever you use your fireplace.
- Avoid using equipment like a gas range, cloth dryer, or oven to heat the room, as it encourages the build-up of carbon monoxide.
- Avoid burning charcoal inside the house. This is because charcoal produces carbon monoxide when burnt and may lead to suffocation if used indoors.
- Avoid using gasoline-powered engines within your home, basement, garage, or less than 20 feet from the window, doors, or any vent.
- Quit smoking inside your home.
- Never leave the engine of your car turned in in the garage. If you have to warm it up before driving, especially during the winter season, consider doing it outside.
Also, consider opening the door to your garage before starting your vehicle. This is because the exhaust from the vehicle often creates high levels of carbon monoxide.
Keeping the garage open ensures proper airflow through and back into your car. This will ensure that the CO dies not build up even if you leave the vehicle idling.
- Be extra careful when using wood-burning stoves. Check to ensure that they are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and that the doors are closed tightly.
- Ensure that you prepare any leaks in your central heating centers as soon as you notice them.
- Avoid using unvented gas appliances like camping stoves and generators in enclosed places. This is because such appliances burn gas for power but lack exhaust vents that would otherwise direct the carbon monoxide outside. Therefore, you can only use these appliances outdoors or in well-ventilated areas with open windows. This is to ensure that the carbon monoxide gas can properly dissipate without building up.
Also, avoid using unvented gas appliances in an area where a person sleeps.
Avoid using unvented gas appliances for periods longer than four hours at a time.
Caution: Following the recommended practices will help prevent carbon monoxide leaks. However, it is not a guarantee that the leaks will not occur. Sometimes they will occur, and because of the tasteless and odorless nature of the gas, it may go unnoticed in your surrounding until it is too late. The best way to prevent this is to install a carbon monoxide detector.
- Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector
The installation of a carbon monoxide detector is considered a second defense line against CO after regular inspections of appliances in a house.
It will inform you of a CO leak in your home by beeping or chirping whenever the concentration is above standard. Ensure that you install the CO detector in every sleeping area and at all levels of the house. Describe below are things to consider for the installation of a CO detector:
- Research or consult about the best carbon detector that would best suit your needs. You can find two essential carbon detectors in the market: battery-powered and AC-powered. We encourage you to use AC-powered detectors, especially if you are challenged by the constant battery replacement involved in battery-powered detectors. You will also need an alarm that is as loud and as fast as it can be whenever there is a rise in carbon monoxide levels.
- Choose the installation location of your carbon monoxide detector. This is crucial as it determines your device’s functionality. Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air, a property that enables it to rise. Therefore, it would be best if you installed your CO detector near the ceiling and some distance away from heating and cooking appliances and humid areas.
Also, ensure that your device is not covered by a piece of furniture, drapery, or anything else, as this may tamper with its efficiency. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing the CO detector close to your bedroom to wake you up when it goes off.
- After purchasing the device, check to ensure that the package contains everything. Battery-powered devices are accompanied by screws and anchors, while AC-powered ones only need you to plug them in.
- Mark the installation holes in your location of preference. Detach the twist-off base and align it with the wall. Use a pencil dot to mark the holes.
- Use a wall punch and a hammer to make holes in the spots you marked with a pencil. Avoid making holes more prominent than the provided screw answers to achieve a perfect fit.
- Use the screw anchors by positioning them on top of the holes, one at a time. Gently position them with the help of the hammer.
- It’s time to install the detector base into the wall. Take the twist of the base and screw it into position using the screwdriver and the supplied screws. If your device did not come with a twist off base, position the screws into the anchors and screw them in. Do not tighten. Ensure that they are protruding enough for the detector to fit in perfectly. Install the batteries with it and fix your CO detector into position.
- Ensure that your detector is working by testing it. This is an excellent opportunity to familiarize yourself with the sounds it will produce in case of danger.
- Finally, it is essential to schedule the replacement of your battery. (Mark on your calendar or your electronic device to remind you). It would be best if you replaced the batteries at least twice a year.
Here’s How to Install Carbon Monoxide Detector:
TIP: Always check your detector after a couple of months, especially during winter, to ensure it works as desired. Also, ensure that you install your detector away from pets and children to avoid tampering.
NOTE: If you have a gas stove, the average CO levels in your home should read between 5-15 PPM. The concentration should be at a lower level of about 0.5-5 PPM if you have no stove. You will begin noticing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning if the CO levels hit 70 PPM or higher.
How Long Does it Take to get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
How soon you will experience carbon monoxide poisoning primarily depends on the concentration of the gas in your area. Your age, gender, and general health also influence the rate you can experience CO poisoning.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that 9PPM is their national ambient quality standard (NAAQS) for eight hours or more. They also caution that this threshold should not be exceeded more than once a year.
If the concentration is above the stipulated rate, one will experience signs of poisoning within an hour or two.
High concentrations of carbon monoxide gas can kill one within five minutes of exposure.
The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Limit for health workers is measured to be 50 ppm. However, one may develop long-term adverse health effects on the brain and nerves if exposed to lower levels of CO for a prolonged period.
Children, smokers, aged people, infants, and those with heart and respiratory conditions are determined to be at a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning compared to the rest of the population.
Final Thoughts: Carbon Monoxide Detector Goes Off In the Middle of Night
It is not uncommon for homeowners to report that their carbon monoxide went off in the middle of the night. Frustrating as it seems, you are advised never to ignore the sound of your carbon monoxide detector, as it could mean a life-threatening situation.
The main reason behind this is the device’s low batteries and the low temperatures experienced between two and six o’clock in the morning. Once you hear its sound, you must vacate the house and tag along your family members and pets.
Immediately call the emergency number and inform them of the situation. After they arrive, ensure you remain outside the house until they deem the environment safe to re-enter.
You can gauge whether you’re the sound of your carbon monoxide detector is an actual cause for concern or if it is an alarm by analyzing and interpreting the pattern beeps, depending on the instruction from specific manufacturers.
You can tell the presence of carbon monoxide gas in your house without a carbon monoxide detector by assessing some physical indicators, some of which include; the smell of gas, pets getting ill, and symptoms of CO poisoning among those in the house, among other things.
The best way to prevent CO leakage in your house is by ensuring your appliances are regularly checked by qualified technicians yearly.
While there are other ways of telling and preventing the leakage, installing a carbon monoxide detector is a reliable defense measure as it will alert you soon as this poisonous gas’ concentration is above average in your environment.
Next time your CO detector goes off in the middle of the night, I hope you will know what to do based on this information.
Do you have anything you would like us to address about the carbon monoxide detector, carbon monoxide gas, and its associated risks? Let us know in the comments.