By Kristen Miller
When the carbon monoxide detectors went off last Wednesday evening, Jennifer Money, Darwin, thought the batteries needed to be changed.
After replacing the batteries around 10 p.m. and airing out the house for safe measure, Money and her two sons, Kyle, 13; and Harley, 10, went to bed for the night. Her husband, Steven, was working.
Around midnight, the family was awakened by the sound of the carbon monoxide detectors going off yet again.
That’s when she realized it wasn’t just the batteries, turned the furnace off, and told the boys “We’ll just sleep cold tonight.” In the morning, she would call someone.
Money was most surprised that the detectors went off because the house is only 3 years old.
In the morning, she spoke with John Erickson at Sam Hendrickson Plumbing and Heating.
It was then determined that birds had built a nest in the vent pipe alongside the house.
Typically if the vent is plugged, the furnace won’t kick in at all, Erickson said. However, in Money’s case, the clog wasn’t enough to stop the furnace, but it was just enough to allow carbon monoxide to back up in the house, he explained.
“She is very fortunate,” he said.
Birds building nests in vent pipes is actually quite common, according to Erickson. He advises homeowners to check their vents every spring.
Erickson also recommends having two carbon monoxide detectors on each level of the house, placed higher on the walls.
“CO2 detectors are very, very important,” he emphasized. Batteries should also be replaced once a year at the beginning of the heating season, along with smoke detectors.
When looking back to that day, Money recalls being a bit fatigued. She even took a nap in the afternoon, which was odd for her, she said.
The boys also seemed particularly tired when they went to bed that evening.
Carbon monoxide does not produce a smell. Fatigue, along with nausea and headaches, are common symptoms for people to have when exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.
Since CO2 detectors are required in all new residential homes, this was the first time the Moneys had detectors.
“What’s most concerning is it can happen so fast,” Money said. “If the furnace had run all night, we could’ve died.”
It is suggested not to cover these pipes with screens, because in the winter, the screen can fill with moisture and freeze, Erickson explained. Instead, he suggests homeowners criss-cross two screws through the vent pipe to help deter birds from building nests.
Erickson also recommends people have a secondary heat source, such as an electric heater, if detectors do go off.
Eddie and Lola Lohse of Dassel also had a carbon monoxide scare this past February and learned that even though there were detectors in the home, they had become too old and were no longer working properly.
Lola recalled that February evening when she had fallen asleep in the recliner near the gas fireplace the couple used during the day to heat the house. The furnace was only used at night.
She remembered walking to bed and feeling dizzy, but thought it may have had something to do with cortisone shots to her knees she had recieved that day.
The next day, Lola called Dorene Erickson to get a quote on painting since she had noticed dark shadows in the corners of her living room walls. Lola was told by friends it was from burning too many candles.
When Erickson came, she looked at the walls and also the gas-burning fireplace. She knew it just wasn’t wear-and-tear, or from candles, and advised Lola to call CenterPoint Energy, thinking it had something to do with how the fireplace had been burning.
When CenterPoint came, large amounts of carbon monoxide was detected and the couple had the fireplace serviced.
Dassel Fire Chief Dale Grochow recommends CO2 detectors and smoke detectors should be replaced every five to seven years.