Older homes could pose problems

Faulty hot water heater exhausts could be deadly

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When Jarle Halsnes recently moved his family into a Steamboat Springs rental house, he sensed something was wrong. He didn't realize how wrong until a fortunate mistake brought it to his attention.

"The water heater had no exhaust to the outside and the exhaust was coming inside," Halsnes said. "It could have killed us."

The problem was brought to his attention after the gas company shut off the gas.

"I overlooked calling the gas company to set up a new account, so we never got a bill," said his wife, Leigh. "So they shut the gas off."

That oversight may have saved the Halsnes' lives, along with their two children. Because when the Greeley Gas technician showed up to turn the gas back on, he noticed the problem immediately.

"The hot water heater wasn't vented and there was a cap missing on a boiler vent," said Jay Clapper, a Greeley plant operator, who explained carbon monoxide could have been released from both the appliances.

The Halsneses said they were lucky the weather hadn't been cold. In fact, they had left their heater off and slept with the windows open.

Clapper, along with the plumber who fixed the job and the building inspector, all suspected someone unqualified may have tried to hook up the appliances.

"When renting a home, you need to have a mechanical inspector come and inspect it," said Jeff Sumskis, a seasonal inspector for the city's Building Department.

Especially older houses and trailers, Clapper said.

"We see a lot of problems with hot water heaters in trailers," Clapper said. "Floors are rotting and vents are falling apart." When the vents come apart, carbon monoxide can seep into the home.

Newer homes have drains that keep water from condensing and rotting out the floors, Sumskis said.

"Some of the older homes don't have a drain. You should check the floor to make sure it's still sound and the vents are sound," Sumskis added.

For the most part, new construction is safe, Sumskis said.

"Most new contractors are conscientious and follow codes and guidelines," he said.

And for those who don't, Sumskis said he and his fellow building inspectors keep them in line.

But one way to make sure you are always safe is to buy a Carbon Monoxide detector.

"It's very inexpensive relative to the value of a life," said Sumskis.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, carbon monoxide poisoning from fuel-burning appliances kills 200 Americans each year. Another 10,000 are sent to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

"I feel strongly that we were so lucky," said Leigh Halsnes of her close call.

"It's a lesson worth saying something about."

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