By Victoria Guida - McClatchy Newspapers
FRESNO, Calif. — When Jason Sanders unwittingly bought a carbon monoxide detector instead of a smoke detector, he didn't know it would one day save his family's lives.
A year and a half later, Sanders and his wife brought their newborn child home from the hospital to their Turlock, Calif., home and turned on the heat. Days earlier, they had gotten the air ducts fixed, but the repairmen had forgotten to reattach the intake on the heater.
The house filled with carbon monoxide — an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas — which was soon detected by the device Sanders had accidentally bought.
"We would've been dead within minutes if it wasn't for the carbon monoxide detector," Sanders said. "It saved our lives."
A new California state law inspired by such incidents goes into effect. All single-family homes with a gas, oil or coal-burning appliance, a fireplace or an attached garage are required to have a carbon monoxide detector. Multifamily homes have until Jan. 1, 2013.
Failure to comply with the law could mean a fine of up to $200, but owners will have 30 days to correct the problem first. Craig Tolmie, division chief for CalFire and Fresno County Fire, said at a news conference Wednesday that the fire department will not be "knocking on doors," but he hopes people will comply voluntarily.
The price for not installing a carbon monoxide detector could be much bigger than the fine. In January, four members of an Oakhurst, Calif., family died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator in the basement. Among the dead were two girls, ages 8 and 10. The house did not have a detector.
Fire officials say detectors should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area, as well as on each level of a home.
A detector should be certified by a recognized third-party testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories, and must be approved by the state fire marshal.
Detectors are available at improvement retailers such as Home Depot, Orchard Supply Hardware or Walmart. They generally cost between $15 and $45, depending on the features.
While detectors installed in newly constructed homes must be hard-wired in to the house, devices for existing homes can be battery-operated or plug in with a battery backup. Devices that operate as both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are also available.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is produced by burning fuels such as gas, oil, wood or coal. Upon inhalation, the gas enters the bloodstream and decreases the ability of blood to carry oxygen to vital organs.
Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness or headaches.
Because people cannot smell or see it, it is often referred to as "the silent killer," meaning people may not know they are being poisoned.
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