Last winter, in preparation for putting our house on the market, we recognized that a few things needed some updating — the first of which was the “Wayne’s World” knotty pine wood panelling in the basement. The painters suggested I use a special primer which prevents knots from showing through the paint which I thought was a good idea since we were painting the room white.
What the painters failed to mention was that the primer stinks to high heaven, and the basement wasn’t exactly a well ventilated area (one small window and that was it). At the end of the first day of painting, the kids and I came home and felt like we’d just walked into some sort of chemical factory. About five minutes after the painters had left for the day (naturally) there was this long, hysterical, high-pitched, beeeeeeep coming from the basement. So I traced it — right to the carbon monoxide detector.
That very afternoon I had also had some work done to the furnace. Had the furnace guys accidentally caused some sort of leak?
No, in fact, that wasn’t the problem at all. I called the gas company who said it was probably the paint fumes. They asked me if I was experiencing any symptoms such as nausea or headaches. Well of course I was, I had a splitting headache, but I knew it had nothing to do with carbon monoxide and everything to do with those vicious paint fumes, and high-pitched beep wasn’t helping matters any. However, the minute you admit to experiencing any symptoms, the fire department is obligated to come and take a look. So, less than ten minutes later a firetruck with sirens blaring and three enormous firemen show up at my house. They go to the basement, wave their special CO detector around, tell me the CO levels are non-existent but the paint fumes are something else.
So here was an important lesson for me: it turns out that all kinds of strong fumes can set off a CO detector, not just carbon monoxide. To make me feel better they told me I wasn’t the first house they’d visited that day for CO detectors going off. They also told me if a detector ever goes off and you’re not sure why, unplug it, stick outside for 15 minutes to clear it out. If, when you’ve plugged it back into the same spot it goes off again, the fumes are still there, and you should call your gas company or the fire department and tell them about it.
I was a little embarrassed at having wasted the fire department’s time, but the guys told me it wasn’t a waste and that I did the right thing by calling them. So if you’re painting close to a carbon monoxide detector, you might want to think about putting a fan in the room and opening the windows to get some proper ventilation in there. I guess that’s why most people paint in the summer (d’oh!).