EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Colorless, tasteless and odorless, it can kill people - seemingly without warning - while they're asleep.
Carbon monoxide gas can form when there is incomplete combustion or improper venting of furnaces, boilers, stoves and ovens and even popular gas fireplaces. Winter is the height of the season for carbon monoxide problems because doors and windows are shut tight to keep out winter cold - and devices for heating and cooking are used more frequently.
"It's scary, because there's no warning" said David Zilar of Eagle, who owns Today's BLDG, a building performance company that evaluates mechanical and building structures for health and safety. "I'm finding lots of gas stoves and ovens that are leaving lots of carbon monoxide. "
Zilar's on a crusade against the poisonous gas because it's easy to detect with a test and easier to avoid with the proper technology. Getting a detector from your local hardware store is the solution, Zilar said, but too few homes seem to have them.
He recommends purchasing one or more digital alarms sensitive enough to detect carbon monoxide levels at 70 parts per million, and to have it installed 10 feet or closer to rooms used for sleeping. The noise of a triggered alarm will wake even the deepest sleepers. The cost of an alarm is about $40.
"Carbon monoxide tends to kill people in the middle of the night," Zilar said. "It's very close in density to regular room air. It doesn't rise or fall. You really can't get rid of it, short of opening doors and windows. Everyone should have an alarm. It's your only line of defense."
Even exposure to minute amounts of the poisonous gas over time will cause you to feel like you're contracting the flu.
The National Center for Disease Control says carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for 15,000 emergency room visits and 500 deaths annually. It is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in this country.
Eagle County has required alarms to be installed in new and remodeled homes, Zilar said, but there are numerous older homes in the county without alarms, putting owners at risk.
Gas fireplaces with sealed combustion chambers are receiving increased scrutiny. Zilar is finding that 15 to 20 percent of them have carbon monoxide leaks. Many of those fireplaces have fans in them that aren't used, causing the units to overheat, cracking the welds of the firebox, so the unit vents into the living space.
Dirty furnace burners are another common source of the gas. Anything that can impair the combustion of the flame causes carbon monoxide to form, Zilar said.
There is an affordable means of detecting and avoiding carbon monoxide issues for Eagle County residents. A Home Energy Assessment conducted by Energy Smart professionals includes an indoor air quality evaluation. Checking for carbon monoxide is one of the items on the checklist. The assessment will cost $100.
Zilar and Today's BLDG is one of a number of contractors certified by the Building Performance Institute to perform such assessments.
The Energy Smart Home Energy Assessment provides:
• A walk-through inspection to identify homeowners' concerns.
• Gas line leak detection, and combustion safety testing of heating systems and appliances.
• A blower door test with an infrared camera to find air leaks and insulation defects.
• Quick Fix energy savings are installed the same day as inspection, up to $100 value for your choice of programmable thermostats, CFL lighting, hot water pipe insulation, aerators, and shower heads.
For more information, go to www.EnergySmartColorado.com, or call the Energy Resource Center, 970-328-8777.