Home Maintenance

Smoke? Fire? Or Something Worse?

September 1, 2015

December will mark our 4th year living here, but in all honesty, our 1st year could have been our last. A few months after we moved in, Michael’s mom came to visit us for a weekend. Michael and I were taking full advantage of having Grandma over by sleeping in a bit while she fixed Akira and Emerson breakfast. Despite our best efforts, however, we didn’t really get to sleep in. There was a faint beeping noise that kept waking us. At first, we assumed someone didn’t close the refrigerator all the way and the alarm was going off. I reluctantly got out of bed and went downstairs to check. Nope. It wasn’t the refrigerator. I didn’t hear the beeping downstairs at all, so I went back upstairs to see if it had stopped. It had stopped, but within a few minutes, it started again. By this time, both Michael and I were looking under beds for a watch going off, checking the alarm clock in Akira’s room… It was so faint, we were sure it couldn’t be one of the smoke alarms, but we checked them anyway. Nope. Wasn’t the smoke alarms, either. We gave up and decided to go downstairs for breakfast. Then it dawned on me, I asked Michael if he had checked the alarm in the attic. He said no, so back upstairs we went.  As soon as Michael pulled the attic door down, we knew we had found the source of the beeping.

Side bar: You may be wondering why we would have an alarm in our attic. Well, our water heater is in our attic, which I find very odd, but apparently it’s not uncommon here in Texas. (Our furnace is also up there.)

Michael and I both looked at each other. Was something on fire up there? We didn’t see any smoke when he pulled the ladder down, so…? He told me to stay downstairs while he checked. He got to the top of the ladder, looked around, and called back, “I don’t see anything, but it’s definitely this alarm.” “Well, that’s also a carbon monoxide detector. Do you see anything that could be causing it?” “CENSORED. Yeh. The exhaust pipe for the water heater is off. It’s venting into the attic.” He tried to shift the pipe back to where it was supposed to be, but it was too hot. He came down the ladder and we both looked at each other with panic. What do we do? Who do we even call for this?

The first person we called was our friend and maintenance guy at our previous apartment. He told us to open all the windows and doors — including all the closet doors. Carbon monoxide is denser than oxygen, so if it were to settle, it could settle in the closets. While Michael was on the phone with our friend, I was looking up who we were supposed to call to fix this. (I have since learned that we should have called 911.) We had Michael’s mom take the kids outside, because I was already starting to get a headache. After opening every door and window, we called our home warranty company and they gave us the number to a plumber. Michael sat outside to wait for him, and his mom and I took the kids to run a few errands so we were out of the house. When the plumber came he used a CO meter to assess the situation. He said it was the highest levels of CO he had ever seen, and if we wouldn’t have found it or heard the alarm it could have been deadly. As far as why the exhaust vent was out-of-place, it apparently wasn’t secured correctly and when a bird or something sat on it (outside on the roof) it shifted out-of-place.

I am happy to say, that we are all well and the exhaust vent has since been secured properly. Nonetheless, we still have a slight moment of panic anytime we hear an unexplained beeping noise. We test the alarm in the attic about once a month, and because of that we recently realized it was no longer working, even after putting in a new battery.

Enter this guy:

smoke? fire? or something worse? protect your family | here-lately.com

We found it at Wal-Mart. At almost $40 it wasn’t the cheapest thing in the world, but it’s a small price to pay considering our previous experience.

Over the weekend, I went up in the attic to install it. It really wasn’t that difficult. Well, aside from the fact that it is sweltering in there, there isn’t much room to move, and I had to straddle the door while installing it. The water heater is immediately to the left of the ladder into the attic, and the alarm is directly to the right.

smoke? fire? or something worse? protect your family | here-lately.com

This is the “solid” ground I had to stand on while installing the new alarm, and I’m not talking about the ladder.

smoke? fire? or something worse? protecting your family from CO | here-lately.com

To install the new alarm, I unplugged the old one (ours are hardwired, but it’s just connected with a plug), unmounted the base…

smoke? fire? or something worse? protecting your family from CO | here-lately.com

…secured the new base…

smoke? fire? or something worse? | here-lately.com

…attached the right plug to the new alarm (it came with two options), and then plugged it in and twisted the alarm onto the base.

smoke? fire? or something worse? | here-lately.com

This one has a nice little feature that talks to you. As soon as I plugged it in it said, “Press test button.” I did, and it went through one cycle of beeping and said, “Fire!”, then it went through a different sounding beep and said, “Warning! Carbon monoxide!” We didn’t seek out one that talked, it was the only CO/smoke detector combo available at our store, but I’m glad that it tells you why it is going off. That should make things a lot easier to figure out should there ever be a next time — which I hope there isn’t. I also liked that this one used AA batteries, instead of those expensive 9-volts. We will probably replace a few of our other smoke detectors with these alarms. You can never have too many CO detectors in my book.

You can find more tips on carbon monoxide and keeping your home healthy here: “Help Yourself to a Healthy Home

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