Chronicle of a phantom gas leak

June 14, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 14, 2017

I was sitting in my parent’s family room with my Parental Unit and the dog Friday night when the three of us heard a chirp!

This, of course, is one of the minor nuisances of modern life: A gadget with (usually) a dying battery starts emitting plaintive noises, which will continue until either the battery (usually) is replaced or the power supply fails altogether.

When the chirp! repeated itself, I heaved a sigh and decided to go looking for the ailing device. I stood in the front hallway near the stairwell, but the detector there didn’t seem to be the source of the chirping. I went into the kitchen and held the stand-alone carbon monoxide detector to my ear, but that didn’t seem to be the origin of the noise either. I moved from spot to spot on the first floor, ears pricked, and I even went to the top of the staircase on the second floor. But the chirps kept coming, and I still couldn’t ascertain the source.

Finally, my parent deduced that the noises were coming from some kind of fire detector in the basement. The unit — a pair of them, actually, although only one seemed to be complaining — was mounted on the ceiling directly over the staircase descending from the ground level. There was no way I was going to attempt to address the issue, as doing so would force me to run the risk of breaking my neck.

We were prepared to let matters lie there. However, a few minutes later, one of the security-system consoles began emitting a flurry of beeps. I ran to the second-floor security panel and punched in the passcode. That seemed to end the noises, but a Check indicator was flashing on the readout along with the number 11.

There’s a paper insert in the security panel listing the meanings of different numeric codes. 11 was the last one on the list. I peered at the scrawl: 11 – CO DET.

I called to my parent, who had gone to the downstairs security panel: “What does the code 11 say on that console?”

“It looks like carbon monoxide detector,” came the reply.

Huh, I thought to myself. I went to my bedroom, pocketed my keys, wallet and some cash, and went downstairs to grab my computer.

I looked up the WebMD page for carbon monoxide poisoning. My parent and I conferred about what to do.

On the one hand, the stand-alone carbon monoxide detector wasn’t signaling any problem, and we weren’t experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, such as headaches, dizziness or nausea. On the other hand, we were getting an anomalous amount of beeping and danger signals, and it seemed foolish to ignore these entirely.

At one point, I went to the top of the stairs descending to the basement and thought about walking down to sniff around. This prospect appealed not one bit to me, as my head was filled with visions of my succumbing to CO poisoning and collapsing.

My parent called the alarm service and had a lengthy but inconclusive conversation. P.U. pulled out the utility bill, which we both inspected. It didn’t seem to have a phone number to call for a potential carbon monoxide issue, and I couldn’t find one on the utility’s website.

My parent ended up dialing the line for gas leaks and said that, while we didn’t seem to have a leak per se, we were concerned about a CO buildup. P.U. was informed that a technician would arrive at the house within an hour.

At this point, it was midnight. Fortunately, the technician arrived within 20 minutes. He was a pleasant fellow of around 25 or 30 who didn’t mind the enthusiastic greeting he got from the family dog. I tended to Lucky as the technician and my parent went around the house, and particularly the basement.

The technician had a CO detector, and all of its readings were well within safe margins. We thanked him profusely for providing peace of mind, and he praised our decision to call for readings — better safe than sorry, as he said various times in various ways.

When he left, my parent and I agreed that we should disconnect the security system; after all, we were planning to be out of the house for several hours Saturday morning and afternoon, and we didn’t want the dog to be oppressed by faulty alarms like the flurry of beeps that had served as prelude to the Check 11 indicator.

And so my parent called the security monitoring company again — or tried to. After several rings, my parent’s call was answered by a sleepy and confused woman. P.U. apologized profusely and then dialed the proper number. Thereupon the monitoring company employee instructed us to (a) flip the off switch in the security monitoring system electronic components box and (b) disconnect one of the leads to the battery contained in the aforementioned box.

That didn’t bring complete silence to the house: The faulty detector whose chirping had marked the start of this incident continued to beep every minute or so. But, my parent and I agreed, this seemed unlikely to trouble the dog very much.

On Saturday, after a sleepless night, my parent opted not to attend the ceremony that was to have taken both of us out of the house (and to Connecticut) for a long stretch in the morning and afternoon.

P.U. called the alarm company to schedule a service appointment for Monday afternoon. (Having the technicians come to the house on Saturday or Sunday would be more expensive than a weekday service call, and they cautioned that they might have to make a return visit on Monday anyway if they didn’t have the right parts, which would cost even more.) The beeping left my parent and I mildly irritated over the remainder of the weekend.

The technicians ended up coming to make the repairs around 9 a.m. Monday, apparently because they had a light schedule that day and wanted to get off work as soon as possible. (Understandably.) They were in and out of the house after 15 or 20 minutes. When they left, the chirping had stopped, the monitoring system had been reactivated, and normalcy was restored.

Or at least, we were back to whatever state passes for normal around here.

On a serious note, my parent and I were both glad we’d called the utility company to check for carbon monoxide buildup in the house. CO poisoning can be deadly. Having an expert confirm that the problem lay in a bad detector and not excess gas let us sleep comfortably — and awaken the next morning.

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