It's scary to think that an odorless, colorless, tasteless, invisible gas can kill you in your own home or office building. By learning about carbon monoxide poisoning and what to do when there might be an unhealthy dose of CO in your building, you can mitigate the risks associated with this silent killer.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 170 people in the United States every year. CO poisoning is more common in the winter months when windows are closed and heaters, fireplaces, and furnaces are in use. These deaths are 100% preventable. It starts by having carbon monoxide detectors installed in residential and commercial buildings. The second part of the equation is making people aware of what to do when the carbon monoxide alarm is going off.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeping?
So you've taken the legal and safety precautions and installed smoke and CO detectors. But what do you do when your detector starts beeping? Below are the steps you should follow immediately:
1. Get out of the building if you or anyone else are experiencing symptoms
This is the most important step. Take a look at the list of common symptoms to learn what to look out for.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Impaired judgement
- Shortness of breath
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest Pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- High levels of poisoning can lead to loss of consciousness and muscular coordination, and ultimately, death.
Note that pets typically become poisoned by carbon monoxide in the building before people do. They may become very weak or unresponsive, so be aware of this when checking for symptoms or exiting the building.
When your carbon monoxide detector is beeping, acting quickly is key. The more of the deadly gas you breathe in, the more likely you are to face serious health consequences. This is because the poisonous gas replaces the oxygen in your blood, which can result in long-term brain damage, organ damage, heart damage, and death.
It's not uncommon for people to think they have symptoms of the flu, when in fact their life is in danger. At the end of the day, it's always better to be safe by seeking fresh air if your detector is going off. Remember that breathing in CO gas can affect people differently, and once you are unconscious, there is little chance of getting out unharmed.
2. Check Your CO Detector
Many people have smoke alarms that also function as carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure you know what kind you have. The significance of different beeping might mean different things for different types of detectors. If your detector is low on battery, you will likely hear a short chirp every minute.
To warn of dangerous CO levels, most detectors will beep 4 or 5 times in a row about every 4 seconds. Do not mistake dangerous levels of poisonous gas for a detector with low battery! Even if no one in the building is experiencing symptoms yet, if there's a chance your detector is signaling carbon monoxide, get everyone outside to fresh air.
3. Call Emergency Services
As soon as you are outside the building, call the closest emergency service (911) or your local fire department. Check that your family members and any visitors have made it out of the building as well. If you notice someone might be missing, do not re-enter the building. You can let emergency services know who you think may still be inside.
It's always a good idea to have an escape plan in place for carbon monoxide or fire emergencies. This will help everyone in the building be aware of what to do and where to meet when there is an emergency.
4. Get a Carbon Monoxide Inspection
After a carbon monoxide emergency in your building, it's imperative that you have a professional pinpoint, repair, and if necessary, replace, the source of the CO leak. Carbon monoxide can leak from different ventilation, cooking, or heating appliances and sources such as:
- chimneys and furnace systems
- wood burning stoves
- cigarette smoke
- central heating systems
- gas ranges
When there is a carbon monoxide leak, it is typically because the appliance is damaged, installed improperly, or is being used incorrectly. CO poisoning is more common in the winter because people keep their windows closed in the colder months, and are more likely to use heating appliances. For instance, if a chimney becomes blocked, the fumes enter the home instead of getting released outside. It's the same dangerous effect that an idling car in a closed garage has.
5. Frequently Test Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Even if you had a false alarm, it's important to test your detectors regularly. For detectors that are plugged into an outlet, you should test them once a month. If your carbon monoxide detectors are battery operated, change the batteries at least once a year.
By rule of thumb, carbon monoxide detectors typically last 5-7 years before they should be replaced. Manufacturers highly recommend 5 years.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is not a topic to be taken lightly. Ensure that your tenants, family members, and friends are aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and what to do when their detectors are beeping by sharing this post.