When she called me to book the inspection she told me that she had heard that the house was haunted. She said she didn’t believe in ghosts and wanted to go ahead with the inspection anyway.
I recognized the address, and had heard stories about the house being haunted myself. I also had no reason to think that she didn’t believe in ghosts–I don’t belief in ghosts either.
The house spent a lot of time being vacant and had more owners than a dollar bill. Rumors travel fast about such homes and no amount of frosting on the listing was going to cover up its history. It was still an awesome deal for the location–so awesome that most anyone would wonder why it sat vacant–if they had no clue of its history.
It was an enormous old house with thick heavy lead-based paint peeling off in sheets like shaved-chocolate from the cedar clapboard siding. The trim was mostly bare wood–except the ornate decorative gables that were too intricate to peel and somewhat protected by the roof overhang.
The rose bushes, that strangled the South side of the house, were mulched with the chocolate paint chips that had fallen there.
The story book old home had charm for sure. It was located in a little hollow at the end of Cul-de-sac Street. It had massive curb appeal–or at least it could have had a lot of curb appeal if an owner could have stayed there long enough to properly maintain it. It was not hard for optimistic new buyers to see its promise–its great bones were obvious even if it did have a few skeletons in its many closets.
It seems there is never any shortage of young home buyers with too much energy and lack of knowledge to prevent them from undertaking such projects.
Its many outdated systems would need upgrading–including the hammering and hissing old steam boiler with its many radiators. The monstrous old coal burning, asbestos-white boiler in the basement, that had been converted to oil in 1946 (right after the war) and then converted to gas in 1974 (right after the war), groaned and creaked through the long winters but still kept occupants and ghosts alike warm and cozy.
But the visions of returning the home to its former glory would sooner or later succumb to the stories of how previous owners had seen ghosts and heard strange noises in the house.
All owners, sooner or later, would report seeing and hearing the ghosts and would pack up and leave, which only served to perpetuate the ghost story.
But alas–some ghosts–not all ghosts–are not what they seem, especially at Halloween.
Everyone knows the dangers of carbon monoxide which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. We are most familiar with “acute” carbon monoxide poisoning, where you get a massive dose in a short amount of time resulting in death or serious injury (the car running in the closed garage scenario).
What is less understood are the effects of levels of carbon monoxide typically considered to be below the threshold for typical symptoms. In other words we are only beginning to understand the cumulative effect of low levels of carbon monoxide that can lead to symptoms that might initially be misdiagnosed as some other condition. Symptoms such as headache, dizziness, chest pain, nausea and vomiting can often be symptoms for other things besides carbon monoxide poisoning.
Even OSHA allows workers to be exposed to “average” carbon monoxide levels of 50ppm over an 8 hour period.
Since carbon monoxide accumulates in the body, it stands to reason that even levels below 30ppm or 20ppm might accumulate and have an effect on our health over time. Supposedly removing oneself from the source of exposure allows one to return to normal, however there is some evidence that suggests that repeated exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide may do some damage. Repeated exposure, places a heavy burden on the cells throughout our bodies–including our brains–affecting how well cells function. It can lead to depression, confusion and memory loss.
Ghosts can even be a symptom. According to Wikipedia, “Symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations have led people suffering (carbon monoxide) poisoning to think they have seen ghosts or to believe their house is haunted.” It kind of makes you wonder how many of our ancestors were affected by carbon monoxide sleeping by the smoldering embers in the fireplace.
Levels as low as 35 ppm can lead to headache and dizziness within six to eight hours of constant exposure to carbon monoxide. It is not unusual to have start-up levels of carbon monoxide on your home’s gas range or gas oven WAY above these levels. Levels typically should drop to under 100ppm once the flame becomes established–if everything is working properly. The question remains as to whether over time these low levels can affect our health–they certainly will not set off your carbon monoxide detectors. Public health authorities say that the incidental nature of these exposures, and the fact that they are not sustained, makes exposure at these levels “safe.”
This may or may not be true.
These conclusions however are why it is not “required” to have a range hood over your gas cooking stove. I have found in testing gas ranges that normal burning of the cook top will have levels of carbon monoxide well above safe levels–even if it is for a short period of time. In homes with no exhaust fan, or with exhaust fans that do not get used, this represents quite a lot of exposure to carbon monoxide in the length of time it takes to cook the Thanksgiving turkey–another reason to pass out on the couch after dinner.
The now required carbon monoxide detectors in your home will do absolutely nothing to let you know about this condition. In fact they are not allowed to alarm at low levels.
I have only a partial clue as to what the truth of repeated incidental exposure to carbon monoxide is, but it would seem prudent to ALWAYS use the exhaust fan whenever operating the gas cooktop, oven and/or broiler. It would also seem prudent to install a range hood–and use it–if you don’t have one–regardless of codes.
The “266ppm” in the picture above is the amount of carbon monoxide in the smoke from a Marlboro cigarette. It would also seem prudent to not smoke. It appears that cancer might not be the only problem with cigarettes. I always knew there was something a little off with the Marlboro Man.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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