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Peterson: The telltale carbon monoxide detector

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 11:31 p.m. CST

I’m sitting next to a carbon monoxide detector, and it is beeping every 30 seconds. I put fresh batteries in.

And it still beeps.

Our house is fairly loaded with smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. We have so many, I’ve lost count. One for every room and then some. We’re protected.

The dang thing won’t shut up.

The problem with these detectors is the batteries. They eventually are drained, or so the detector would have us believe, when it starts to beep at that high pitch intermittently.

Try finding the offending detector. The sound comes from everywhere. One went out the other week, and I could have sworn it was one of the upstairs detectors. I would hear a beep, and I would move to a detector to see if it was the culprit. And I would stand there for 30 to 60 seconds to wait for the ear-splitting beep. Wrong room. Move to another room. Wrong room.

My good wife suggested it was a basement detector. Posh. I could swear it was one of the half dozen or more upstairs. It sounded like it was in the next room. And the next room. And the next room. Finally, she locates the offender in the basement and reloads it with a new battery.

It seems as if all we have to do is turn the oven on and bake something just a tiny bit too long, and the smoke detectors start to go off, one room at a time, then into the basement, and I can’t even see smoke. It’s as if the smoke detectors are commenting on our cooking skills – you burned it. Again! And again!

Thankfully, they have a reset button that shuts them up. Otherwise, we’d be forced to remove batteries until the colorless smoke has cleared, and you clearly don’t want to remove batteries on the off chance that you forget to replace them, or become so frustrated that you make a conscious decision not to replace them. Which would be dangerous, all cooking commentary aside.

I know, I know. We’re supposed to change all the batteries in all the detectors in the fall when we turn back the clocks an hour. That’s what fire departments recommend to ensure that your detectors operate without interruption.

But you know how it goes. The batteries are expensive enough, and the people who designed the detectors did not make it easy to replace them. You have to open it just right, pry the battery out without breaking anything, then replace the battery ever so carefully so it makes contact with the terminals.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but some years we neglect to change our batteries en masse, and we wait for the telltale beep and replace the batteries one at a time.

It makes sense to replace them all at the same time, being that you cannot tell where the offending beep is coming from. 

The carbon monoxide detector in question was on a basement wall. After I stared and listened at three other detectors, I finally found the culprit. I was ready to put a fresh 9-volt battery in it, only to discover it takes three triple As. Of course. Batteries replaced, the beeping continued.

I brought the carbon monoxide detector upstairs, where we have other carbon monoxide detectors, and all of them are silent. But this detector persists, beeping ever louder every 30 seconds. There’s no carbon monoxide upstairs, otherwise the other carbon monoxide detectors would be going off.

To prove a point, I opened a window – we’re in the single digits temperature-wise – and put the detector between the inside window and the outside window where it will get plenty of fresh air. And the dang thing is still beep, beep, beeping every 30 seconds.

Certainly the great outdoors is free of carbon monoxide. This isn’t downtown Beijing.

I’ve now waited overnight for the carbon monoxide detector to clear itself of any CO vapors. I’ve replaced the three fresh batteries one at a time, making sure the positive terminal is in the correct position, and it beeps, which is to be expected once it has just been powered up. But 30 seconds later, it beeps again. Arrgh.

Which leads me to believe the detector has malfunctioned. 

I’m not about to air the house out. Remember, it is in the single digits, give or take several degrees either side of zero. I’m not about to call the fire department. Did that once before years ago, and it was a false alarm. To quote Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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