I heard a strange buzzing when I got out of the car - wondered which neighbors had some kind of alarm going off... As I got closer to the front door, amazingly the noise got louder. And when I opened the door, I was met by a cacophony of noises and an odd smell - some alarm going off, and the cats frantic for reassurance and quiet. I determined that the loudest noise was coming from the garage. Called Greg to find out which kind of alarm was in the garage and if it would explode if I opened the door. I've seen too many movies...
Turns out that we have a CO detector in the garage. Carbon Monoxide is a toxic gas that's odorless (we still don't know what the strange smell was, but I'm not crazy - Greg smelled it too!) and colorless. It generally comes from appliances that use gas: boilers, kerosene or gas space heaters, leaking chimneys & furnaces, generators, and automobile exhaust (this is a good site for more information: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html). I waited for Greg outside the house with the door cracked just a bit so the cats could get fresh air. The garage did not explode when he opened the door (whew!) and when he reset the alarm, it stopped going off. He repositioned it and turned it on again - still no alarm. Which was a relief, but also confusing.
So we cancelled wallyball and figured out what to do when you've had a CO detector alarm go off. Call the gas company. Or the fire department. Or 911. We called the gas company. Even though it was after hours, their emergency line took our information, then transferred us to the fire department. We were told to wait outside, so we took the cats out to the car and sat in the running car, trying to stay warm for a bit. The fire department came in no time at all, then Greg left to see to them and the cats & I stayed in the car. After testing and wandering in & out of the house, turns out they found a CO leak coming from our furnace. Great. Weather forcast for the next week (starting the very next day) is severe cold - hovering around zero during the day, colder at night.
Some good friends put all four of us up over night, and Greg stayed home from work to let furnace repair people into the house. The first one that came said our heat exchange was cracked in about 3 places, and the current furnace was 27 years old. Time to replace. So Greg spent the rest of the day hunting up heaters (electric) and calling for bids on getting a replacement furnace. The only place to actually make it to the bid appointment also happened to be available to install the very next day. We're in!
We just spent a boatload of money on something, and I was feeling a bit robbed. I mean, I can't drive it around, can't show it off (it's in the crawl space), it doesn't do tricks, and no one will ever even see it... so I sent Greg down to get some pictures to post. My lesson that I'm passing on: if you don't have a CO detector, get one - it could save your life. If you have one, test it to make sure it's working properly. And if you have one going off, the door won't explode if you open it.
Crawl space beyond the furnace
The New Furnace