marcy’s message

Image from BRK Electronics

Our homes are places that we like to make look beautiful and comfortable, but it is important they they are safe, too.

With the recent early snowfall in the northeast, Shelley Holmes (@ShelleyCHolmes formerly¬†@WykehamGirl) found that she was relying on her generator for day-after-day of support as power lines were down, and the power wasn’t due to be restored for several more days. The generator provided power for just part of the house, but that was enough to provide some comfort from the cold and dark, and to keep the pump going to prevent water from building up in the basement. There had been many reports of people who had their generators in the basement or in unventilated areas (which is very dangerous – they always need to be in a ventilated area), but Shelley’s generator had been professionally installed and was located several feet away from the exterior of the house. She also had two carbon monoxide detectors in the house.

During one of the days, one of the carbon monoxide detectors went off. Shelley checked on it and moved it and it stopped. She figured that the battery was low or it had malfunctioned. Later that night, in the early morning hours, it went off again. This time it was harder to get it to silence, but it eventually did. The other carbon monoxide detector hadn’t gone off. But Shelley was up, her sleep had been disturbed, and so she hopped on Twitter. There she found Jessica Ryan (@GimletStyle) also having a difficult time sleeping. Jess asked Shelley why she was up and when Shelley told her that the carbon monoxide detector had gone off, Jess told her to call the FIRE DEPARTMENT NOW! And she continued to persist until Shelley did. Shelley had already opened some windows and thought it wasn’t really necessary, but when she called the fire department they told her to close all of the windows and get everyone in the family out of the house – immediately!

When the fire department arrived their carbon monoxide detectors started to go off as soon as they stepped into the house. The readings in the basement showed that the air contained 80 parts per million (ppm), on the first floor it was 30 ppm and on the upper floor it was 25 ppm. [The average home has a level between .5 to 5 ppm!] An ambulance had also arrived due to the type of emergency that it was. Shelley and her family were told that the generator had produced the carbon monoxide and they would not be able to go back into the house for 24 hours! They would be okay but they would have to go to the emergency shelter that the town had set-up as a result of the storm, and spend the night there.

Even though the generator was professionally installed, it was situated too close to the house and the fumes had entered through the cellar and the old foundation.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and heavier than air. It can be highly dangerous and can be fatal. Symptoms such as headache, nausea, feeling dizzy, vomiting and fatigue, are often mistaken for a cold or the flu. Looking back, Shelley remembers feeling poorly and having a headache, but she didn’t realize the cause of it. She now knows that if she hadn’t listened to Jess, and hadn’t called the fire department, that she and her family could have become very sick and might have died from the poisoning.

Shelley is trying to spread the message that everyone needs at least two carbon monoxide detectors in their home. Larger homes will need several. {Remember one of hers didn’t go off – you don’t want to count on just one!} Carbon monoxide detectors are different from smoke detectors. You need both.

Carbon monoxide is produced by combustion in gas stoves, gas fireplaces, fireplaces, woodstoves, propane/oil furnaces, generators and even candles. Place detectors on each level and near your bedroom. Sleep with your bedroom window opened a bit to bring in air.

Now when Shelley runs the generator, it is far enough to vent away from the house and she opens a window on the opposite side of the house to bring in fresh air.

If your carbon monoxide detector goes off – treat it as an emergency! – Evacuate the house and call the fire department immediately.

To learn more about carbon monoxide, Lisa Adams (@AdamsLisa) has written an informative piece about another family’s experience with carbon monoxide, and she provides lots of valuable information about the dangers of carbon monoxide.

To recap:

  • You need more than one carbon monoxide detector (in addition to your smoke detectors)
  • Sleep with your bedroom window cracked open for fresh air.
  • Use caution when operating a generator. Make sure that it is vented properly.
  • If your carbon monoxide detector goes off – leave the house and call the fire department.


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