Winter doesn’t officially start for another couple weeks, but looking out the window here in New England and many other parts of the country tells a different story. Snow is covering the ground, and each additional storm will pile it higher. With the cold, wintry weather brings an increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from blocked heating system combustion exhaust vents. The current (2018) edition of the Life Safety Code requires the installation of carbon monoxide detectors or alarms in certain occupancies with combustion equipment, including:
- New assembly occupancies
- New educational occupancies
- New day-care homes
- New and existing health care occupancies with fireplaces
- New one- and two-family dwellings
- New lodging or rooming houses
- New hotels and dormitories
- New apartment buildings
- New residential board and care occupancies
Most of us, however, live in existing homes – defined as those constructed prior to the adoption of the current edition of the code – with older heating equipment and vent systems. It’s in these existing homes where the greatest risk lies. In 2005, seven-year-old Nicole Garofalo of Plymouth, Massachusetts died when a snow drift blocked the exhaust vent on her home’s heating system. Several months later, the state enacted Nicole’s Law in her memory, which requires all homes in Massachusetts with combustion equipment or enclosed parking to have carbon monoxide detection equipment. The law is enforced at the time a house is sold; fire department approval is required prior to the transfer. This exceeds the minimum requirements of the Life Safety Code, which does not require CO detection in existing homes. Kudos to Massachusetts for taking the lead on requiring relatively inexpensive, life saving protection where it’s needed most.
And what is the cost to provide this valuable protection in an existing home? I’ll offer myself as a case study. When I bought my house a few years ago, it met Nicole’s Law by having two plug-in CO alarms – one on each level. I just looked on my favorite online shopping site; a plug-in CO alarm goes for under $20. For under $100, you can protect a pretty good-sized home. Now, my house has a gas furnace, a gas stove, a gas fireplace, a wood-burning fireplace, and an attached garage; I wanted something more than a couple plug-in alarms. My house already had hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms that were due to be replaced. (Smoke alarms should be replaced every ten years or as directed by the manufacturer.) Instead of buying replacement smoke alarms, I bought combination smoke and CO alarms. Again, on my favorite online shopping site, a box of six hardwire combination carbon monoxide and smoke alarms with battery backup and voice warning goes for $168. I’m pretty handy so I did the installation myself. $168 was a small price to pay for the lives of me and my family.
If you’re reading this #101Wednesdays blog, I’m likely preaching to the choir. You already know about the dangers of CO poisoning and the need to keep combustion vents clear. Most people, however, don’t think like us. So as this holiday season approaches, think about your neighbors. Check to make sure their vents are clear. Maybe if they’re older, ask if you can help to clear them. Ask if they have CO alarms in their homes. If not, for $20 you could give a gift that’s much more thoughtful than a fruitcake.
See NFPA’s website for more details on CO, including safety tips and NFPA’s nonfire CO incident report.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe.
Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!
Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to www.nfpa.org/101 and click on “FREE ACCESS.”
Follow me on Twitter: @NFPAGregH