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California Law To Require Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Written by on Monday, 02 August 2010 7:00 pm

On May 7, 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 183 (Lowenthal), a bill that will require the placement of carbon monoxide detectors in all California dwelling units. The bill also requires that the presence or absence of these devices must be disclosed when residential real estate is transferred.

SB 183 was introduced in February of this year. It was prompted by Senate hearings a few years ago that dealt with the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the American Medical Association, carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States. The California Air Resources Board has determined that 30 - 40 "avoidable deaths", on average, occur in California each year due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. Additionally, this is the cause of 175 - 700 "avoidable" emergency room visits and hospitalizations in the state.

This bill deals with existing housing. (New construction standards are set by state agencies.) It covers every "dwelling unit intended for human occupancy" which means single-family housing, factory-built homes, condominiums, motels, hotels, dormitories, and dwelling units in "multiple-unit dwelling unit buildings" (apartment houses). It applies to every dwelling unit that has "a fossil fuel burning heater or appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage". "Fossil fuel" means "coal, kerosene, oil, wood, fuel gases, and other petroleum or hydrocarbon products, which emit carbon monoxide as a byproduct of combustion." In other words, unless you live in an all-electric home with a detached garage and you don't use a hibachi, you are covered by this law.

The bill requires that such dwelling units will have to have installed a "carbon monoxide device" that is designed to detect carbon monoxide and produce a "distinct, audible alarm." The device may be battery-powered, a plug in, or hard-wired with a battery backup. It may be combined with a smoke detector, but, if it is, it must emit "an alarm or voice warning in a manner that clearly differentiates between a carbon monoxide alarm warning and a smoke detector warning."

The devices must be ones that have been certified by the State Fire Marshall. The bill imposes a requirement on the State Fire Marshall to certify and approve both the devices and their instructions. It will then be illegal to sell detectors that have not met the Fire Marshall's certification requirements.

The devices must be installed, consistent with new construction standards or according to the approved instructions, in all existing single-family dwelling units no later than July 1, 2011. All other dwelling units (such as apartments) must have proper carbon monoxide detectors no later than January 1, 2013.

As noted, the bill also creates disclosure requirements with respect to carbon monoxide detectors. Currently, sellers of residential properties in California must provide the buyer with a state-mandated form known as the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS). The TDS requires the seller to answer a variety of inquiries as to features of the property. SB 183 amends the TDS so that, effective January 1, 2011, the seller will have to say whether or not the property contains one or more carbon monoxide detectors. It is important to note that, even if the answer is "no", that will not invalidate the sale or transfer of the property. In this respect, the question regarding carbon monoxide detectors is similar to a current question regarding automatic garage-door reversing devices. A footnote explains that the lack of such a device may fail to meet current safety standards. Nonetheless, a transfer of the property may still take place.

The senate bill analysis observed the following: "CO [carbon monoxide] devices are available ranging in price from $20 to $90 and can be purchased in hardware stores including Lowe's and Home Depot or on the Internet. If each of the 13 million households in the state installed one device in their home at the lower price scale the cost would be approximately $260 million."

One has to suppose that $260 million is chump change when being considered by the California State Legislature. And maybe that is a small price to pay for the number of lives that might be saved. Whatever, it's probably a nice windfall for the carbon monoxide detector industry. A little bit of stimulus for a hurting economy.

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  About the author, Bob Hunt

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