Carbon Monoxide Detection Saves Lives

Marco Cardazzi

On June 17th In Fire, Life Safety
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With new legislation and the expansion of State Carbon Monoxide (CO) laws, there has been an increased focus on Carbon Monoxide (CO) detection. CO, often knows as the silent killer, can easily prevented and its small additional can help save lives and provide peace of mind.

Let’s start by discussing what CO is, where it comes from, and why it can be so dangerous. CO is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas that is a product of combustion. CO is dangerous because it bonds to hemoglobin (which carries oxygen from the lungs to the organs and tissues in the body) in the blood.

When CO attaches to hemoglobin it displaces oxygen that would normally be carried. Since the body does not recognize or remove the CO, it blocks hemoglobin from picking up oxygen in the lungs. Prolonged exposure eventually suffocates the organs and tissues. The effects of CO poisoning depend on the concentration of CO and the exposure time. Effects can range from headache, fatigue, and nausea to loss of consciousness and ultimately death.

Heating systems are the most common source of CO poisoning, accounting for a large portion of CO poisoning events. Other combustion powered devices, like power tools, charcoal grills, gas ranges, and automobiles (running in enclosed spaces) also produce dangerous CO levels.

Since CO is the same weight and density as air, CO detectors can be mounted on the wall or ceiling. Contrary to popular belief, they do not need to be mounted at head or floor level. NFPA 720 (Standard for Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment) requires CO detectors be installed on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel burning appliances and centrally located in every habitable level and in every HVAC zone of the building.

Local codes or adopted national codes determine specifically which types of buildings require CO detection. NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code) requires CO detection in One- and Two-Family Dwellings, Lodging and Rooming Houses, New Hotels and Dormitories, and New Apartment Buildings. The International Building Code (IBC) requires CO detection in Group I (Institutional) and Group R (Residential) occupancies.

Both NFPA 101 and IBC specifically requires them in buildings with communicating (shared air space) attached garages and fuel-burning appliances. Specifically, outside each separate sleeping area and on every occupiable level of a dwelling unit, include basement.

CO detection is available as CO alarms (standalone devices that may be interconnected, like a smoke alarm) and system CO detectors (connected to a fire alarm system). Combination smoke and CO detection (standalone and system detectors) are also available.

When CO detection is connected to the fire alarm control panel in commercial fire alarm applications NFPA 72 requires that CO alarm signals be annunciated as Carbon Monoxide Alarm on the panel and the remote annunciators. NFPA 72 also requires that carbon monoxide alarms produce an audible signal distinctive from other signals (NFPA 720 calls for 4 pulse/pause pattern, sometimes called Temporal 4).

CO detection continues to be an important concern, and should be addressed for all applications. ADI offers an array of Fire & Life Safety training classes at its branches across North America. In addition, ADI has teamed up with our manufacturing partners, industry associations and the National Training Center to provide training and certification programs. Click here to check out ADI’s training schedule.