Renters and those living in multi-family homes will see more than just the smoke alarms in their apartments in the future.
The Carbon Monoxide Alarm Standards Act, or state Senate Bill 607, was signed into law in December and requires owners of multi-family residential buildings to install carbon monoxide alarms in every unit of their properties by June 2015.
“I definitely think this is a positive thing,” said Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, which produces carbon monoxide detectors. “In the U.S., every single home is required to have a smoke alarm. You wouldn’t dare move into a home that didn’t have a smoke alarm. Unlike smoke, however, you can’t see (carbon monoxide) and you can’t taste it — you don’t have the ability to sense it.”
Hanson said Pennsylvania is nearly the 30th state to have some type of code regulating carbon monoxide detection, but she said it was in 1993 that the first alarms went on the market. In 1994, Chicago became the first major city to require them, but not all codes are the same across the country.
“There are still many more houses that aren’t protected,” Hanson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Pennsylvania leads the country in the number of accidental carbon monoxide poisonings. Pennsylvania was previously one of the few cold-weather states that hadn’t enacted carbon monoxide safety legislation.
The new law requires detectors in multi-family dwellings, which are defined as buildings with more than two units. The owners install, repair and maintain the detectors until a tenant occupies the unit, in which case the tenant is responsible for the upkeep.
First Alert said in a news release that carbon monoxide poisoning is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning in the country and responsible for an average of 450 deaths and more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning could mimic those of other illnesses and can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, weakness, chest pain and vomiting.
According to the law, carbon monoxide alarms must be centrally located and near a unit’s bedroom, but Hanson said there are additional recommendations homeowners can take in putting detectors in the right place to keep them safe. There are portable devices available that can be battery-operated and placed on a shelf or devices that can be plugged into the home and operate with a back-up battery in case of a power outage.
“They can be installed anywhere,” Hanson said. “Carbon monoxide dissipates everywhere, so you can put it anywhere — it doesn’t have to be in a specific place. That National Fire Protection Association ... (does) say to have at least one near every sleeping area and one on every level of the house, including the basement.”
Hanson noted there are certain areas where a detector would not be useful.
“They should not be put within 15 feet of carbon monoxide sources,” she said. “So, not right in front of a furnace, oven or fireplace — anything that burns with flames.”
First Alert said that can also include heaters, appliances or cooking sources that use coal, wood or petroleum products. Likewise, a detector in a garage would not accurately report of carbon monoxide inside the home, though Hanson notes all homeowners should start their car outside of their garage and not inside of it.
“It can seep into the house,” she said. “People have those electronic ignitions that starts the car, so that’s a concern.”
Like smoke alarms, however, carbon monoxide detectors require maintenance and battery changes, and the National Fire Protection Association also recommends replacing the alarms once it reaches its expiration date, which is an average of five to seven years.
Whatever the work, Hanson said it’s an important step for Pennsylvania in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning — something that is warned against every winter as residents turn to generators when the power goes out.
“The Carbon Monoxide Alarm Standards Act is a vital step in bringing strengthened CO protection to consumers state-wide,” Hanson said.