Carbon monoxide detectors are a must in any home. They are an excellent safety device and can save your life if used correctly. They’re designed to warn you if lethal amounts of carbon monoxide are in your home so if the alarm does go off, you need to know what to do. There may be dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home.
But there are multiple reasons that a carbon monoxide alarm will go off. How do you know if yours is warning you about a dangerous level of CO? And if it is, does a carbon monoxide detector go off continuously?
It’s important to note that not every carbon monoxide detector will alarm in the same way so you must become familiar with the CO alarm you’re using. Every manufacturer includes a user’s manual that contains important information about your carbon monoxide alarm’s operation. Make sure you read and follow the instructions in that manual.
Does A Carbon Monoxide Detector Go Off Continuously?
Yes, in general, if a carbon monoxide detector detects dangerous levels of CO, it will sound continuously.
It will vary by each manufacturer but that usually means the alarm horn is repeating 3-4 beeps or chirps with a 1-5 second pause in between. If this occurs, you should react like your home is on fire and get everyone out as quickly and safely as possible.
The alarm will be continuous until the CO levels drop to “safe” levels.
What To Do If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off
Here are some important Do’s and Don’ts to take if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off from a CO alarm alert as described above.
1. DO immediately move everyone in your home to fresh air outdoors. Do a headcount to check that everyone is accounted for. It’s better to react like this is a deadly fire and leave as quickly as possible. DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER UNTIL THIS STEP IS COMPLETE!
DO NOT take time to open windows to air out your home. Airing out your home not only keeps you exposed to a possible lethal situation, it can also prevent emergency services from tracing down the source of the carbon monoxide.
DO NOT remove the batteries from your carbon monoxide alarm or silence the device. You’re only removing your safety, not the danger.
2. DO call 911, fire department or your emergency services from your cell phone or a neighbor’s phone.
DO NOT go back inside your home until the emergency responders arrive, the air has been cleared, and your CO alarm is working normally again.
3. DO after following steps 1-3, call a qualified technician to investigate for sources of CO from fuel-burning equipment and appliances. This will help identify any potential problems so they can be serviced immediately.
4. DO note any combustion equipment not inspected by a technician, and consult the manufacturers’ instructions, or contact the manufacturers directly, for more information about CO safety and this equipment.
5. DO make sure that cars aren’t, and haven’t been running in an enclosed garage or next to the house because this could be a potential cause of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Other Reasons Why Your Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Beeping And What The Alarm Means
Besides the carbon monoxide detection alarm that’s discussed at the beginning of this article, there are other reasons your carbon monoxide alarm will beep. It’s important to know what these mean. It could be that there’s something wrong with the device itself or that there’s a problem in your home.
Again, it’s important to note that not every carbon monoxide detector will alarm in the same way so you must become familiar with the CO alarm you’re using. Every manufacturer includes a user’s manual that contains important information about your carbon monoxide alarm’s operation. Make sure you read and follow the instructions in that manual.
With that in mind, here are some common sounds and what they mean from your detector.
Low Battery Warning On Your Detector
If your alarm beeps or chirps once every minute, this is a sign the battery needs to be replaced. While a detector can last for several days in this condition, you should replace the batteries as soon as possible.
If you have a digital display (which is highly recommended) on your carbon monoxide detector, some type of battery icon will display on the screen.
Malfunction Signal On Your Detector
If your alarm beeps or chirps three times every minute, this is a sign the detector is sensing a malfunction and needs to be replaced. A detector in this condition should not be left in place. A new carbon monoxide detector should be installed immediately.
Carbon Monoxide Detector End Of Life
Manufacturers have an alarm that sounds when a device reaches a certain age. For most that is usually around 5-7 years. Once the detector reaches that age it will usually sound similar to a battery replacement alarm but with more beeps. Often it is 5 beeps every minute.
Signs And Symptoms Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisonings can be difficult to diagnose but are classified as acute (having a sudden onset) or chronic (occurring again and again for a long time).
Acute poisoning occurs by breathing large amounts of carbon monoxide over a short period of time. Chronic poisoning occurs by breathing smaller amounts of carbon monoxide over an extended period of time.
The severity of poisoning and the subsequent symptoms depend on the total amount of carbon monoxide breathed over time, as well as the person’s physiological condition.
Signs of acute carbon monoxide poisoning can include:
- Vision Problems
Signs of chronic carbon monoxide poisoning can include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Feeling better when not at suspected site of poisoning
- Impaired attention and problem-solving abilities
- Mental confusion
- Difficulty with simple arithmetic
- Memory impairments
Why Is Carbon Monoxide So Dangerous?
When you breathe, your lungs are taking in oxygen from the air. And the oxygen molecules, consisting of two oxygen atoms, go into your bloodstream where they attach to proteins which then carry the oxygen throughout your body to feed organs like your brain and heart.
When you are exposed to carbon monoxide, those carbon monoxide molecules, consisting of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom, take the place of the two oxygen atoms. This prevents our body from getting the oxygen that it needs to survive. In high enough concentrations, this will lead to death.
But did you know that not all forms of carbon monoxide poisoning are from large amounts of exposure?
There is less known about the harmful effects of low level exposures to carbon monoxide. But there is evidence suggesting that it may be a real issue.
There are both short-term and long-term health effects from CO exposure. Long term studies indicate that carbon monoxide poisoning has serious and permanent consequences including neurological damage and cardiovascular complications
A study conducted in 1998 found that low levels of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure lead to impairments in cognitive functions like memory formation and reasoning.
Unfortunately, most of the studies on the health impacts of CO exposure date back to the early 2000’s or even earlier, suggesting there’s a need for more recent studies.
It’s not easy to address the problem of low level exposure. Different organizations have different recommendations regarding safe levels of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure.
Some organizations say that breathing air containing 50 parts per million (50 ppm) for 8 hours is safe while some say it must be less than 9 ppm.