CO Detection Is Always In Season

Technical Aspects of CO Detection

There is a good deal of confusion regarding how and where to install CO detectors. Some experts claim they should be installed on the ceiling while others say to mount them at or near pillow height.

One school of thought is when a gas is released into the atmosphere during the combustion process it almost always rises. Once it essentially reaches ambient temperature, it may also sink toward the floor, displacing CO in the environment.

For this reason I have always advised readers to install their clients’ CO detectors at ceiling height in basements, especially furnace rooms, and at pillow height on upper floors. By contrast, there are those who believe the ceiling is the best spot for a CO detector.

Perhaps this quote helps justify my approach: “Although the molecular weights of these gases differ, convection and not density differences dominate the distribution of CO, methane, etc. The release of gases associated with combustion tend to rise because they are hotter than ambient. For this reason smoke detectors and CO detectors are usually placed high on the walls of hallways, etc.,” says Vince Calder, retired physical chemist with Newton BBS, a service of Argonne National Laboratory.

List of CO Laws Grows Lengthy

Through the years cities and states have taken the daunting task of legislating the use of CO detection. For example, Chicago enacted legislation in the 1990s that required the use of CO detectors in residential structures.

Chicago is not alone as most major cities in the United States already have similar laws in place. Currently, there’s considerable activity in this regard at the state level. In most cases these efforts are directed at the addition of CO detector components to the state’s basic building codes

A good example of this took place in 2006 when Illinois enacted Public Act 094-0741, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2007. This legislation effectively covers the CO detector requirements for single- and multiple-family dwellings. More recently the governor of Colorado signed a measure that mandates the use of CO detectors in homes throughout the state.

“Gov. Bill Ritter put his signature to House Bill 1091, which will require most homes in the state to be fitted with CO detectors. He signed the bill, known as the Lofgren and Johnson Families Carbon Monoxide Safety Act, at a ceremony in Denver.” (Governor Signs Carbon Monoxide Detector Measure,The Aspen Times, March 25, 2009).

In Ogden City, Utah, councilmen recently asked Governor Jon Huntsman to veto a bill that would limit the enforcement of CO detector laws.

“HB 402 would prohibit a city or county from holding landlords responsible for installing and maintaining detectors in residential units, with the exception of new construction,” says Scott Schwebke of the Standard-Examiner.

Many times these laws come on the heels of a local CO-related death. For example, after the CO deaths of Patty and Gene Overbeck in 2003, Tom and Richard Overbeck decided to do something about the CO threat at the state level. They created the Overbeck Fund ( After many years of hard work, the Overbeck organization helped to enact legislation in Michigan that now requires the use of CO detectors in new homes and existing ones under renovation. The trigger for this requirement is a permit.

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