You can't see it. You can't smell it. But potentially fatal carbon monoxide may be seeping out of the appliances that keep many Juneau residents warm.
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Since Jan. 1, 2005, state law has required carbon monoxide alarms in houses and apartments with carbon-based fuel appliances, such as furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and water heaters. This year, the law will be fine-tuned and is being written into state safety codes.
The codes will be clearer than the current law and will detail what kind of homes are required to have the detectors, according to Mahlon Greene, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Fire Prevention.
"Before, state statute said you had to have them in all required structures," Greene said. "It was kind of vague. This breaks it down, explaining what every little part of it means."
Details in the proposed codes include the following: At least one carbon monoxide detector will be installed on each floor of houses with a "combustion appliance" or an attached garage. If a floor level contains a bedroom, at least one detector must be immediately outside the bedroom.
Carbon monoxide law
If your home has a carbon-based fuel appliance, an attached garage or carport or is adjacent to a parking space, the law requires the installation of a carbon monoxide alarm to warn you and your family if carbon monoxide is present.
Source: Division of Fire Prevention
The alarms, which cost about $70 locally, should be installed next to rooms containing boilers, water heaters, furnaces and other carbon-based heating appliances, or inside a house near the garage door.
Exceptions are made for houses with electrical appliances and apartment complexes with carbon heating equipment located in a room separate from the building.
A set of proposed codes are being analyzed by the Department of Law and will be sent to a legislative committee for approval, Greene said. The final approval comes from the lieutenant governor.
The 2005 law was driven by the death of a family of five in Anchorage, Greene said.
"They had a fairly new home, but the entire family died of carbon monoxide poisoning," he said.
Juneau has not had deaths linked to carbon monoxide recently, Fire Marshal Rich Etheridge said. He and some volunteers have gone door-to-door in past months to educate people about alarms, especially fire alarms.
"For the most part, people are becoming more compliant," Etheridge said.
The need for compliance is vital due to the difficulty of detecting carbon monoxide. The gas can build up quietly before causing flu-like symptoms and death.
"It's colorless and odorless, so you don't know you have it without a detection device," Etheridge said. "If you wait for symptoms, it may be too late."
Ken Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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