Installer's Update

With the winter season in full swing, the use of wood burning stoves, natural gas fired furnaces and fuel oil burners will increase dramatically throughout the majority of the nation. Increased reports of carbon monoxide poisoning and related death expectancies are higher. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), about 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment.

As professional life safety and security system installers we are often called upon to install carbon monoxide detectors, aimed at detecting this silent killer. Yet, significant confusion on proper placement, correct testing and dispatch procedures have left many in the industry guessing on how to best handle these devices.


Characteristics of carbon monoxide poisoning

What is carbon monoxide (CO) and how is it produced?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless and odorless poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion, engine-powered equipment such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers and power washers also produce CO.

What are some of the symptoms of CO poisoning?

Because CO is undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed to it. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu and include:

• Headache

• Fatigue

• Shortness of breath

• Nausea

• Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

• Mental confusion

• Vomiting

• Loss of muscular coordination

• Loss of consciousness

• Ultimately death


Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused and lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.


Understanding carbon monoxide detection

Installers need to be aware of the two different Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) standards that exist regarding carbon monoxide detection.

UL 2034 - Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms, which pertains to electrically operated single and multiple station carbon monoxide (CO) alarms intended for protection in ordinary indoor locations of dwelling units.

UL 2075 - Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors, which pertains to detectors intended for monitoring the environment and detectors intended for open area protection and for connection to a compatible power supply or control unit for operation as part of gas detection or emergency signaling systems.


Carbon monoxide detector placement

The CPSC recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034. The CPSC also recommends that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, while UL recommends placing carbon monoxide detectors within hearing range of each sleeping area. Additionally, UL recommends placement near, but not directly above, combustion appliances such as furnaces and water heaters, near fire places or in the garage. UL also discourages placement of detectors within five feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas where household chemicals and bleach are stored. Detectors may be placed near the floor or near the ceiling since carbon monoxide has nearly the same density as air.


Legislated detector requirements

In North America, some national, state and local municipalities require installation of CO detectors in new and existing homes as well as commercial businesses, among them Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey,  Vermont and New York City as well as the Canadian province of Ontario. Installers are encouraged to check with their local municipality to determine what specific requirements have been enacted in their jurisdiction.


Industry Standards Development

Help is on the way. Within the last few months, both the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Quincy, Mass., and the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), Vienna, Va., have released standards for the proper installation, service and notification and dispatch (respectively) of carbon monoxide detectors.

In the 2009 version of NFPA 720 Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment, the agency expands the standards requirements beyond dwelling units to apply to all buildings and structures including: hotels, rooming houses, dormitories, day care facilities, schools, hospitals, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. Provisions cover the installation, location, performance, inspection, testing and maintenance of carbon monoxide detection and warning equipment.

In addition to the broader scope, significant requirements in the 2009 edition include these provisions for non-residential occupancies:

• The capacity of the secondary power supply to include the capability of operating all carbon monoxide notification appliances for 12 hours.

• Location of carbon monoxide detectors on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances.

• Location of carbon monoxide detectors on every habitable level and in every HVAC zone of the building.

• Functional testing (beginning in 2012) and sensitivity testing (beginning in 2015) of CO detectors with CO gas.

Updated rules for dwelling units include new requirements for the following:

• Locating carbon monoxide alarms/detectors on every level (in addition to outside sleeping areas).

Battery backup for electrically powered units in new homes.

• Interconnection of CO alarms in new homes to assure early warning of occupants at all levels.


In the newly released ANSI/CSAA CS-CO-01-2008 Carbon Monoxide Supervising Station Response Standard, the CSAA seeks to clarify the proper response procedure for a supervising station to a carbon monoxide detector alarm transmitted to the supervising station. The standard applies to both residential and commercial installations.

Installers are urged to read both of the standards so that they can become familiar with the proper methods for installing, servicing, testing and inspecting these devices.


Continuing your CO awareness

This article is designed as an overview of a very unique segment of the industry. The insights and observations have been provided as a beginning guide to aid you in understanding some of the opportunities and obstacles you may face. Given the life safety nature of the system installed, installers should take extra care to ensure that the specified system meets the applicable code requirements for their geographic area. Also, keep an eye on new pending legislation for newly adopted regulations.


About this article:

Significant portions of this article were excerpted from various NBFAANationalTraining School courses. Insight from the Consumer Product Safety Commission on CO poisoning was also included. With over 35,000 individuals attending NTS courses since its creation in 1985, it is clearly the “Gold Standard” for training individuals on the fundamentals of the Electronic Life Safety and Security Industry ( All code references have been paraphrased. Readers are encouraged to read the entire referenced code in its full context.


About the Author:

Dale R. Eller serves the NBFAA as Director of Education and Standards. A 25 year industry veteran, Eller’s firm ITZ Solutions! provides consulting, training and management services to the NBFAA.


System Sensor’s New CO Detector Put to the Test

By Natalia Kosk


System Sensor, St. Charles, Ill., released its new carbon monoxide (CO) detector. The CO1224T provides RealTest, the first test of its kind for a detector’s CO sensing cell. What this offers the consumer is the reassurance that both the electric components and the sensing cell are working to detect poisonous CO gas.

“The CO1224T detector builds on our proven CO product line,” said Jack Ogden, product manager for System Sensor. “Now that we’ve added RealTest technology as an option, with a small, safe can of CO it’s as easy to test the CO cell as the electronic components. It only takes a half-second spray for you to rest assured that the sensing cell is functioning properly.”

Holding down the test button of the CO1224T for two seconds, the detector will go into alarm, showing that the circuitry is working. The CO detector will then enter test mode, spraying some of the canned CO into the gas entry holes at the top of the detector, putting it into alarm. After about 20 seconds, the detector will return to normal mode.

Fully compliant with UL 2075 standards, the CO1224T offers a code-required trouble relay to send a sensor failure or end-of-life signal to the control panel and central station. The detector operates on most industry security and fire alarm panels and is a 12/24 VDC detector that can be mounted to the wall or to the ceiling.

For more information, visit

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