Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can strike without much notice.
According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet, it "can kill you before you are aware it is in your home."
Julie Sadlier, 59, said she didn't smell, see, or have any inclination that the gas was present in the basement of her Old Orchard house in 2001 until she started getting a series of headaches.
They came on as she was doing laundry. Her washer and dryer are in the same utility room where the furnace is located.
"I was pretty much the only one in the house getting headaches," Ms. Sadlier recalled Wednesday. "It was just headaches and it wasn't constant because I wasn't in the laundry room constantly."
The headaches were so sporadic, in fact, that Ms. Sadlier didn't at first suspect any problems with her home gas line or the furnace. She thought they were just ordinary headaches.
Finally, after a month or so, she called a service crew. A problem was identified with the furnace, which was old and in need of repair.
With utility costs rising and climate scientists growing becoming more worried about how wasted energy results in the release of an abundance of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, everyone from environmental regulators to home-improvement stores is showing people how they can button down their homes and save money while protecting the environment.
The move toward greater energy efficiency has made homes more air-tight, which is good as long as there isn't a leak in natural gas lines or a defect with gas stoves and furnaces.
The federal EPA said it is imperative to keep furnaces tuned up and to have ventilation checked.
One of the agency's fact sheets said generators should never be used inside homes, garages, crawl spaces, sheds, or other enclosed areas.
"Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off," the U.S. EPA document states.
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion of gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal.
People who suspect they have been exposed to carbon monoxide should get outdoors immediately. Death can occur within minutes. Those who experience the classic symptoms of headaches, light-headedness, and nausea should go to an emergency room, according to the federal EPA.
For more background and tips, see epa.gov/iaq/pubs/coftsht.html.
About 170 people in the United States die annually from carbon monoxide generated by something other than automobiles, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Products other than furnaces and ranges that emit carbon monoxide can include water heaters, room heaters, generators, and other engine-powered equipment, fireplaces, and charcoal grills.
In 2005 alone, the United States had at least 94 generator-related poisoning deaths. Half were known to have occurred during power outages due to severe weather, including Hurricane Katrina, according to the federal safety commission.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that thousands of people are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year for carbon-monoxide poisoning, some who tried to take their lives from inhaling automobile fumes.
Ms. Sadlier said the headaches she had in her Old Orchard home prompted her and her husband, Tony, to install a carbon monoxide detector and have their furnace inspected annually.
Several government agencies, including the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, endorse use of the detectors while also stressing the need for proper placement and installation. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said today's models are far more reliable than the first generation.
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.
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