Residential carbon monoxide detector law taking effect

In recent weeks, Brandon Ruscoe has bought about 100 battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms for the 100 or so homes he takes care of for Yosemite Property Management.

He bought them to get ready for the new law, effective Friday, that requires all existing single-family homes with an attached garage or a fossil fuel source to install detectors that monitor the colorless, odorless gas.

Ruscoe said most of the homes that needed the detectors were spread across Merced.

Carbon monoxide kills about 40 people in California every year, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Single-family homes must have carbon monoxide detectors installed by Friday, and multifamily buildings have until Jan. 1, 2013, according to the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act, which was introduced in 2009 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year.

But all-electric houses, with no fireplace or attached garage, can rest easy. They're not required to get the detectors.

The Lowe's store on Olive Avenue reported that sales for detectors have spiked over the last month and it has had to order more. The same could be seen across town at The Home Depot as the Friday deadline approaches.

You can't smell, see or taste carbon monoxide, said Meegen Murray, legislative assistant with the senator who worked on Senate Bill 183. "With smoke you can use a lot of your senses. You start coughing. But there's nothing to detect carbon monoxide except a carbon monoxide detector," Murray explained.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu, including nausea and fatigue. The law is an educational campaign to get people to put the detectors in their homes, she said. There's a $200 fine for not installing the detectors, and a 30-day notice to comply.

Tom Russo, brand manager for First Alert, which manufactures carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, said the company conducted a survey where nearly nine out of 10 California households weren't in compliance with the national recommendation for the number of detectors in a home set by the National Fire Protection Association.

According to that survey, Russo said almost 40 percent stated they would take up to four months after the effective day to comply with the law.

New homes under construction were required to install the detectors as of Jan. 1. Russo said the law also requires people to install the detectors on each floor, including the basement and outside of sleeping areas. "If you have a grouping of bedrooms together, you'd want to install it in the hallway outside," he said.

But he strongly recommended installing them inside each bedroom, too. "Your body has no other way, when you're asleep, of knowing that there is carbon monoxide in the air," Russo said.

The Merced Fire Department doesn't respond to a large number of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide incidents in Merced on an annual basis, according to Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin.

Single-family residences can have fossil fuel appliances such as gas stoves, gas furnaces, gas water heaters or attached garages -- and those can produce carbon monoxide, said McLaughlin.

Firefighters will inspect multifamily apartment buildings. "If somebody calls and requests help, we will help them," McLaughlin said. "We're providing advice and guidance to people but we don't currently enforce residential homes."

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.