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Detecting the Hidden Dangers: Carbon Monoxide



Carbon monoxide (CO), often referred to as “the silent killer,” claims hundreds of lives and sickens thousands of individuals every year. It is a colorless, odorless, and poisonous gas that results from the incomplete burning of common fuels such as natural or liquefied petroleum, gas, oil, wood, or coal. When inhaled, CO enters the bloodstream and reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to vital organs, such as the heart and brain. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious public health concern. As of January 2017, 26 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia ,Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes regarding carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, and another 11 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming) have promulgated regulations on CO detectors.

CIBA Insurance Services recognizes the importance of having carbon monoxide detectors installed within residential buildings or any building with sleeping areas. Each building authority having jurisdiction will have a requirement for the installation and maintenance of carbon monoxide detectors within residential buildings. Check with your local building authority or fire Marshall for additional information about carbon monoxide detector requirements. Generally, carbon monoxide detectors should be installed as follows:

  • CO detection in habitational occupancies when they contain a permanently installed fuel-burning appliance* or

  • When they have a “communicating attached garage,” the definition of “communicating” is a garage with a door or entryway between the garage and the dwelling unit or building.

  • For each occupancy, CO detectors should be installed

  • 1) Outside of each separate sleeping area, in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping rooms; and

  • 2) On every occupiable level, including basements, but excluding attics and crawl spaces.

  • Where code generally requires the installation of.

Types of CO Detectors

There are two types of CO detectors commonly available:

  • Electromechanical: This is the dominant technology used in the United States. A sensor creates an electric charge which varies with the amount of CO present. They use little power, and operate at room temperature.

  • Biometric: These detectors have a sensor which changes color in the presence of CO. Just like blood, the sensor gets darker with higher concentrations of CO. An optical sensor reacts to the changing color. These detectors are very accurate and are used in higher-end facilities such as hospitals, where the cost of a false alarm can be high.

CO detectors are available with wireless vibrating pads, strobes, or other remote warning devices. These are used for people with hearing impairments, low vision, or other sensory impairment.

Where to Install

According to the 2005 edition of the carbon monoxide guidelines published by the NFPA, all CO detectors “shall be centrally located outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms,” and each detector “shall be located on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the installation instructions that accompany the unit.” So the CO detectors can be mounted just about anywhere with a few exceptions. They should not be mounted on the wall within 6 inches of the ceiling. This “pocket” is considered dead air that does not circulate or mix well with the rest of the air in the house. They can be mounted on the ceiling. You should follow the manufacturer’s installation recommendations as they have likely performed research to determine the best placement for their detector.

The best way to deal with carbon monoxide is to avoid it in the first place. Do not allow the use of gas, propane or kerosene heaters inside any building, do not use generators in enclosed spaces, inspect and check gas, propane and fuel oil burning appliances annually, check all flues and exhaust vents for damage or obstruction. Replace carbon monoxide detectors every 5 to 7 years or in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.

*Fuel Burning Appliances include but are not limited to natural gas, fuel oil or propane range/ovens, furnaces, water heaters, wood or gas burning fireplaces and wood burning stove.

This Bulletin is provided to CIBA Members and their Agents as a service to you. Make sure you consult qualified experts for complete information and assistance.

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