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HVAC Education, Indoor Air Quality, Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Your Carbon Monoxide Detector Goes Off: Then What?

A carbon monoxide dector going off.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels such as wood, gas, oil, and coal. It is dangerous when inhaled, as it binds to hemoglobin in the bloodstream, reducing the blood's ability to carry oxygen to vital organs. Where to place a carbon monoxide detector is crucial to avoid false alarms caused by factors like proximity to fuel-burning appliances, which may emit small amounts of CO during normal operation.

What Should I Do If My Carbon Monoxide Detector Goes Off?

  1. Do not ignore the alarm. Assume it is working properly and there are unsafe levels of carbon monoxide in your home.
  2. All people and pets should quickly evacuate the home and find fresh air.
  3. Call 911 immediately and report that the alarm has gone off.
  4. Do not assume it is safe to reenter the home when the alarm stops. When you open windows and doors, it helps diminish the amount of carbon monoxide in the air, but the source may still be producing the gas. The levels can build up again once you go back inside and close the windows.
  5. Have the emergency responders check for the source of carbon monoxide and determine if it is safe for you to return to your home.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?

Some symptoms could include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Light-headedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleepiness
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightening in the chest
  • Confusion and disorientation
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