AUGUSTA, Maine — Carbon monoxide is a silent killer because it’s odorless, colorless, it has no taste and it can quickly overcome a person, robbing the body of the oxygen it needs to survive.
In Maine, where most people have heating systems that produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct, CO poisonings kill one to five people each year and sends more than 100 to the hospital, Richard Taylor of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said Tuesday.
“It’s a danger,” he said. “It’s a reality.”
To address the increased frequency of CO-related poisonings, lawmakers in Augusta passed a new law earlier this year that goes into effect Sunday, Nov. 1., mandating CO detectors be installed in all apartment buildings and new single-family dwellings.
Carbon monoxide detectors, which must be powered both by an electrical source and a battery, also are required in existing single-family homes if they are sold or if an addition is constructed that includes at least one new bedroom.
The new law has landlords scrambling to get enough for their rental units, has created a recent surge in sales of the units, and has spurred a number of questions from locals trying to understand the new law, which also adds new rules for smoke detectors.
Two Bangor-area businesses are having a run on sales of both CO and fire detectors.
“There has been a huge run on the CO detectors in the last couple months, and more recently regular smoke detectors, as well,” David Butler, administrative manager at Lowe’s of Brewer, said on Wednesday. “It’s apartment owners who have been buying them” for their rental units.
“We have a selection of 15 different models, and we’ve been ordering up as much as we can get a hold of, so we have enough supplies,” Butler said.
Reid Thurber, sales associate at Fairmount True Value Hardware on Hammond Street in Bangor, said the detectors are a hot item.
“We got a couple of real big orders, 60 or so for one and 80 or 90 for another,” he said.
Apartment and trailer park owners have purchased those units, he said.
“They’re scrambling right now because they have to put in one at each rental unit they have,” Dan Wellington, Bangor’s code enforcement officer, said on Tuesday. “It’s not inexpensive.”
The fact that CO detectors with plugs would be allowed was only decided in mid-September, he said, which added to the last-minute buying.
Another big change under the new law requires smoke detectors in all apartment buildings and new single-family dwellings be photoelectric-type smoke detectors, powered by both an electrical source and a battery.
All smoke detectors that are located within 20 feet of kitchens and bathrooms with tubs or showers, also must be a photoelectric-type smoke detector, which are not as sensitive to moisture.
The new law also makes tenants of rental units responsible for keeping the detectors working, testing them periodically, and bars renters from disabling them.
“To this day, we still see people disconnecting hard-wired detectors,” Wellington said. “It’s very disheartening.”
Violating the new law could lead to fines of up to $500 per violation, but for the first year home inspectors are “going to work from an educational standpoint” he said.
Having smoke and CO detectors is a smart decision, Brewer Fire Chief Rick Bronson said on Wednesday. He has two CO detectors in his Bangor home, one in the basement and one in a hallway upstairs, and has four fire detectors, three that are hardwired and one battery-operated one.
He said CO poisonings are very dangerous and very common, he said.
“Carbon monoxide is a common chemical compound — it comes out of the tailpipes of our cars, and comes out of any building where things are burned,” including oil and gas burners, and pellet stoves, Bronson said.
Improper venting, maintenance and even placement of combustion devices can cause CO gases to build up in enclosed spaces, which when undetected can lead to poisonings, he said.
Over the last couple months, the Fire Marshal’s Office has been inundated with calls from landlords, homeowners and Realtors, Taylor said.
“Most people agree that the law is a good thing,” he said. “That’s a good thing. It indirectly contributes to educating the public about fire safety and carbon monoxide dangers.”
A complete list of the changes is available at Maine.gov, under the State Fire Marshal Office listing, and at bangormaine.gov, under code enforcement. Those with questions can contact the Fire Marshal’s Office at 626-3873.