Carbon Monoxide Alarm Law Goes into Effect

An approved model of CO detector

The July 1 deadline for single-family homeowners to install carbon monoxide detectors in their houses is here!
A California law, passed in May 2010, requires single-family homes with an attached garage or appliances that burn fuels like gas, coal or wood to have the devices. Other multifamily dwellings, such as apartment buildings or condominiums, have until Jan. 1, 2013, to comply with the law. Since in our area, most of our homes are heated with a gas-fired furnace or water heater, this law will apply to the vast majority of local homeowners.
Failure to install carbon monoxide detectors could result in a $200 fine, although residents would get 30 days to install the devices before having to pay.
When appliances such as water heaters or gas stoves burn their fuel, one of the byproducts of combustion is carbon monoxide gas. It’s colorless and odorless and is toxic to humans and animals in high concentrations. The molecule binds to an area on red blood cells that normally carries oxygen, essentially suffocating the body’s organs.
A common question will be whether it is wise to install a combination smoke/CO detector, as opposed to separate detectors to deal with each issue. Recently I attended a presentation by an attorney for a natural hazards disclosure company. She was firm in her recommendation, the same as I have heard from local building inspectors: get a separate carbon monoxide detector. Smoke is best detected high up. CO is heavy, and best detected closer to the floor. Get separate devices and locate them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
While you’re at it, check your smoke detectors. Are they the photoelectric variety? If not, they should be! The Fire Marshall of the City of Albany gave a presentation recently to local Realtors. He is on a mission to make sure ALL smoke detectors in his small City are photoelectric, because they have eight times fewer false alarms, and are thus much less likely to be disconnected. They will not go off because you broil something in the oven (unless you actually burn it!) The common type of smoke detector, which is the ionization type, has a 56% failure rate in smoldering situations! Photoelectric detectors, by comparison, have a 4% failure rate. PE detectors signal 15-45 minutes sooner in smoldering situations. The cost difference is trivial, especially when considering that the choice of detector could truly make the difference between life and death, or serious damage.
The Fire Marshall made a believer out of me! To read his letter discussing the differences, follow this link to the City of Albany Fire Department. There you will also find a very informative video on the subject. This would be a great time to install a CO detector, and either replace those ionization smoke detectors, or replace the batteries in your PE detectors. Then every Fourth of July when those fireworks go off: you’ll be reminded to prevent any fireworks in your own home by making an annual replacement of the batteries.

For a list of approved carbon monoxide devices, click here.

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