What to do if you Carbon Monoxide Alarm goes off?

Is that the time to hunt through the draws to find out what it says in the instruction manual?

It may be alerting you to a very dangerous situation, just like a smoke detector – you might only have a precious few minutes to get out safely – but often that is not the case (but it is not like the smoke detector going off when i burn the toast).

NOTE – fire and smoke – you can quickly see or detect the source of the problem.  BUT with CO gas you don’t know where it is coming from and how much more is on its way!

I don’t want to give you wrong advice here so I want to say this is only what I might do.  You should read your instruction manual and go through the plan with all those who live in your house – before any real alert happens.

I would probably do these things in this order (but of course it depends where the CO alarm is located, are we in bed, etc…):

1. Open all windows immediately – and all doors – maximise ventilation through the house.

2. Turn off gas (either at mains or any gas appliance that is on).

3. Gather all my family to sit with their heads out of an open window – perhaps leave the house if I thought necessary.

4. Reset the CO alarm if i can do so (safely).

5. Call a gas-man to check out the situation – in the UK the national gas emergency number is 0800 111 999.  

Why this order – why not save my children first? 

The lower levels of CO that can trigger an alarm give me a good few minutes to deal with the problem.  Open windows may bring the CO levels in the house down to a safe level.

If I first spend time running up and downstairs carrying sleeping children then the CO could be rising to a dangerous level before everyone is safe.  Same principle as putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others when on a plane!

I have actually read quite a few guidelines and instruction manuals re CO Alarms. Some say turn off gas first.  Well, if I was in a room with gas fire I would open windows first for that vital ventilation before bending down next to the fire to turn it off – as that might be where the CO is coming from.

CO is invisible. If I put my head it to an invisible cloud of CO it could knock me instantly unconscious. It can kill very quickly.

I then might turn off the fire – but personally I might turn off gas at mains.  I know where to do that. It is easy to do and it doesn’t involve going near any possible source of CO in my house, but your house may be different.

Then I might go upstairs looking for my sleeping kids. The smaller the person the more vulnerable they are to CO poisoning – so priority is in that order.  And I would just aim for fresh air -but  don’t dangle them dangerously from an upstairs window!

The strangest advice I read on a CO Alarm instruction manual was – FIRST – reset the CO alarm.

Look I can’t reset anything without turning on all the lights, finding my glasses, find the instruction manual… lets just say we’d all be unconscious before I got on to step 2.  I think we should ensure we’re all safe first.

Have you thought of checking on your neighbours?

I have read up on CO alarms, as  I said, so lets put two and three together:

1. there are quite a number of incidents where CO alarms are activated but no source for the CO is found in the home;

2. there are quite a number of deaths and injuries from CO where the CO gas leak triggered alarms to go off in neighbouring homes, both in flats and terraced houses.

3. it is known that CO gas travels to neighbouring rooms and nearby homes.  So check your neighbours are OK.  Find out if they have CO alarms and if yours goes off make sure your neighbours are OK.


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