Because March Is Still Winter: Know the carbon monoxide detection requirements

Shutterstock / Constantine Pankin
Shutterstock / Constantine Pankin
Published On
Mar 15, 2021

Because March is still winter, the weather can be very cold and stormy or it can be nice and warm. Since a lot of people will be staying inside with the heat on, this seems to be a good time to review the carbon monoxide detection requirements of the International Building and International Fire codes—NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

Carbon monoxide requirements first started appearing in the 2012 editions of the codes. At that time, they referenced NFPA 720, Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment. As of 2019, those requirements were incorporated into NFPA 72, since most of NFPA 720 consisted of extracts from NFPA 72 anyway. The CO system detection requirements were added to Chapter 17, “Initiating Devices,” and the carbon monoxide alarm detection requirements were added to Chapter 29, “Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Signaling Systems.” All testing requirements were added to Chapter 14, “Inspection, Testing and Maintenance.”

The requirements of the International Building Code (IBC) and NFPA 101 are pretty much the same, so for simplicity, I am going to use the IBC for this article. In 2012, there was only a single paragraph in Section 907 about CO detection and no specific location requirements yet. That changed in the 2015 edition with the addition of Section 915 on CO detection. This was necessary because many states had enacted laws requiring CO detection due to deaths in those states from carbon monoxide poisoning. Since so many states now have CO laws, you can bet you will be installing more carbon monoxide detection on future projects.

In the 2015 and 2018 editions of the IBC, CO detection is only required in dwelling units and sleeping units in Group I-1, I-2, I-4 and R occupancies, as well as classrooms in Group E occupancies. There are some alternatives to placing them directly in the dwelling and sleeping units and classrooms, such as installing a CO detection device in the room where the fuel-burning appliance is located. Section 915 provides location requirements where occupancies have fuel-burning appliances or are directly attached to private garages. The 2015 edition of NFPA 720 is referenced for installation requirements in the 2015 and 2018 editions of the IBC.

In addition to listing the occupancies and the required locations in those occupancies, Section 915 provides requirements for where they physically must be installed. In dwelling units and sleeping units, they must be installed on the ceiling outside of any sleeping areas in the immediate vicinity, unless there is a fuel-burning appliance in the sleeping area. Then you must install a CO detection device in the sleeping area. In Group E occupancies, they must be installed in the classrooms.

One thing that is still quite open to interpretation is the occupant notification requirements. These requirements are supposed to come from the building or fire codes, not from NFPA 720, or now NFPA 72. Those documents are intended to provide installation and testing requirements only. In the 2015 NFPA 720, it states, “Unless otherwise required by other sections of this standard, the coverage area for audible occupant notification shall be as required by other governing laws, codes or standards.”

However, if you look at the IBC, there are no requirements. The closest to any requirement is actually in NFPA 720, which states, “Where carbon monoxide alarm signals are transmitted to a constantly attended on-site location or off-premises location in accordance with Chapter 7, selective public mode occupant notification shall be permitted to be limited to the notification zone encompassing the area where the carbon monoxide alarm signal was initiated.”

So as you can see, there are lots of possibilities. I strongly recommend talking with your fire marshal’s office prior to starting a project with CO detection requirements. After that discussion, send an email stating your understanding of the conversation, with a request that if your understanding is not correct, they reply within a given time period. At least that way, you have something in writing for future use should any conflicts or differences of opinion arise.

A lot of occupant notification is based on common sense, so plan accordingly. As we all know, the field fire inspectors may have a different interpretation than the person you discussed it with.

The requirements are essentially the same in the 2015 and 2018 editions of the IBC. So regardless of which is used in your area, this hopefully will provide a refresher. Stay safe out there!

About the Author
Tom Hammerberg

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist

Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is an independent fire alarm presenter and consultant in The Villages, Fla. He can be reached at

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