Our son Ian, 17, came home early from high school exam day and said the house “smelled like gas” – like propane, he added. Virginia Natural Gas puts in an additive “mercaptan” that makes the normally odorless gas smell like rotten eggs; which is different from the “propane smell,” and we never use propane indoors. So I told him not to worry. When he insisted, I gave the “Don’t sass your mother” warning.
It was fairly rare for Ian to come back to me a few minutes later looking mulish and actually demand I call the gas company – so unusual and alarming that I relented and called.
I was told not to put my cordless phone handset back on the receiver or use the computer to prevent them from causing a spark. I was told to check on the flame in the furnace because, according to the emergency operator at VA Natural Gas, “A gas flame should burn bright blue. A yellow or orange flame could indicate improper combustion or venting.”
Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) offers a checklist for detecting potential signs of carbon monoxide buildup and poisoning symptoms and we had them all. The buildup clues are: stuffy or stale air, very high humidity, fallen soot from the chimney or draft hood, and a hot draft coming from the draft hood. The poisoning symptoms were very similar to those being pounded into us by all the stories about the flu epidemic.
According to the VGN technician who assessed our home, the CO level should have been no higher than 9 parts-per-million by the handheld meter that he brought. Our home was at 240 PPM and climbing fast. “At levels over 9 PPM, CO begins to adversely affect your health if you persist in breathing it for over eight hours," according to eHow’s David Scott.