Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that in sufficient concentrations, can threaten life. Due to recent deaths attributed to CO, the codes now have requirements to install CO detectors or alarms in both commercial and residential occupancies that have attached garages or when fossil-fuel burning appliances are in use in an enclosed area.

Even relatively small amounts of CO can be deadly over an extended period. The gas is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. Through inhalation, it can poison people and animals in these spaces. See the Safety column on page 10 for more information on working around CO.

Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. Fatality is highest among those 65 and older.

New York was one of the first states to adopt a CO detection law. It was named Amanda’s law in honor of Buffalo teenager Amanda Hansen who died of CO poisoning from a defective boiler while spending the night at a friend’s home in January 2009. Today, more than 30 states have laws that require installation of CO detectors. The International Residential Code added requirements for CO detection in 2009, while the International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code include such language in 2012.

So where are CO detectors required? Section 908.7 of the 2012 IBC states that CO alarms must be installed in Group I or R occupancies located in buildings containing a fuel-burning appliance or in a building that has an attached garage. The code allows CO detection systems to be used as an alternative to the stand-alone CO alarms. They must be installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA 720, Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment.

NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code, has requirements in various occupancy chapters. The occupancies that require CO detection and a summary of the requirements are as follows: new day-care occupancies (Chapter 16), new (Chapter 18) and existing (Chapter 19) healthcare occupancies, one- and two-family dwellings (Chapter 24), lodging and rooming houses (Chapter 26), new hotels and dormitories (Chapter 28), and new apartment buildings (Chapter 30). All have essentially the same requirement. CO detection is needed where fuel-burning appliances are installed or when the building has an attached garage. Open parking garages are exempt.

As electrical contractors install fire alarm systems, these new laws and code requirements will mandate installation of CO alarms or detectors, so getting familiar with the code requirements will be helpful. Always check your state or local requirements, which may exceed national requirements. (System Sensor provides a map of the U.S. requirements at www.system sensor.com/co/map).

NFPA 720 requires that CO alarms and detectors be installed outside each separate dwelling unit sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms; on every occupiable level of the dwelling unit, including basements but excluding attics and crawl spaces; and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards (Section 9.4.1.1). Each shall be placed on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the manufacturer’s published instructions that accompany the unit. NFPA 720 also includes testing requirements in paragraph 8.7.5.1. For all system detectors installed after Jan. 1, 2012, CO tests shall be performed at initial acceptance and annually by introducing CO into the sensing chamber or element. An electronic check (magnets, analog values, etc.) is not sufficient to comply with this requirement.

As the number of states requiring CO detection grows, more fire alarm installations will need to include either CO alarms or detection systems.


HAMMERBERG is the president/executive director of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association Inc., headquartered in Jasper, Ga. He serves on a number of NFPA committees, including the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee and the Protected Premises Technical Committee. He can be reached at TomHammerberg@afaa.org.