Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is the second-most common cause of nonmedicinal poisoning deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 10,000 people are poisoned by carbon monoxide and need medical treatment
each year. More than 438 people in the United States die annually from carbon monoxide poisoning.
With the number of illnesses and deaths caused by high levels of CO in homes and buildings, state legislatures have begun adopting laws mandating the use of carbon monoxide detectors. The mandate varies from every enclosed room requiring detectors, to every room that has a smoke alarm needing one, with only daycare centers and group homes needing detectors.
What’s the regulation in your state?
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia require carbon monoxide detectors in private dwellings with a state statute: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia (with adoption of the International Residential Code), Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Certain states limit the installation to buildings with fossil-fuel burning devices, while others only require the device be installed on the sale of the property or unit.
Another 11 states require carbon monoxide detectors in private dwellings regulatorily through the adoption of the International Residential Code or through an amendment to their state’s building code: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine and Maryland require CO detectors in school buildings.
Fourteen states require the installation of CO detectors in hotels and motels. New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin have complementary administrative regulations. Kansas and Washington have administrative regulations alone.
This information is from the National Conference of State Legislators website and is added to show why we now have CO detection requirements in the International Building Code and in NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, as well as installation and testing requirements in NFPA 72.
Codes and standards
The first requirement for CO detection in the national building and safety codes was in the 2012 edition and was more or less a placeholder for adding additional requirements in subsequent editions. The first national requirements were added in the 2015 edition. NFPA started work on developing a document in the mid-1990s to cover the installation and use of CO detectors. It began as a recommended practice and became a standard, NFPA 720, in 2005. At first, it only had requirements for household use.
Commercial use of CO detection was added in the 2009 edition. Although the standard NFPA 720 was in place, it was not immediately recognized in the national codes. Because of this, it was decided that instead of having another document, it would be more efficient to simply move the CO requirements into NFPA 72.
In 2019, NFPA 720 installation and testing requirements were added to NFPA 72 and NFPA 720 was discontinued. The requirements for commercial use of CO detection were placed in Chapter 17, Initiating Devices, and the requirements for household use of CO detection were placed in Chapter 29, Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Signaling Systems.
The International Building Code and NFPA 101 contain CO requirements as of the 2015 editions. In the IBC, a new section was added—Section 915 contains requirements for where CO detection is required. Not every occupancy requires CO detection to be installed. Only Groups I-1, I-2, I-4, R and classrooms in Group E are required to have it when fuel-burning equipment is used. Section 915 also provides information on where the detection must be installed in each occupancy.
NFPA 101 contains CO detection requirements in the occupancy chapters. The requirements are similar to the IBC for where CO detection is required. Both documents only require CO detection in new occupancies, not in existing ones.
In my opinion, one area that still could use some improvement is where CO occupant notification must be provided. CO audible alarms are a 4-pulse temporal pattern similar to the 3-pulse pattern used for fire alarms. For the most part, codes say very little about audible notification except that it is usually just required in the area surrounding the detection. Common sense is necessary when installing CO detection with regards to where an alarm signal should be heard. I am sure the language in both codes will continue to improve in future editions.
When you are installing a fire alarm system in educational, institutional or residential occupancies, you will in many cases also be installing CO detection. Follow the guidelines of the code adopted in your area and install the equipment properly per NFPA 72.
Header image: shutterstock / Zigmar Stein