State Regulations Set Requirements for Installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Published on: March 28, 2006

The Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has adopted regulations implementing the state’s new law requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in virtually all residential structures. The statute applies to all residential structures that either contain “fossil-fuel burning equipment” (defined as furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers or other equipment that produces carbon monoxide as a byproduct) or incorporate enclosed parking within the structure.

The implementing regulations, published in February, 2006 and revised on March 22, 2006, establish two options and two deadlines. Under the first option, homeowners, including condominium owners, have until March 31 of this year to install “approved” carbon monoxide alarms in their dwellings. The alarms must be placed on every level “designed, used and furnished” for living purposes. On any floor containing sleeping areas, the alarms must be installed no further than 10 feet from each bedroom door. Alarms are required in attics and basements only if those areas are finished and furnished as living areas. The Option 1 rules permit many different types of alarms, including: Battery-powered units; an AC plug-in powered alarm with a battery back-up; a hardwired AC unit with battery back-up; a low-voltage or wireless alarm system; or a combination smoke detector and CO alarm powered by battery or AC with a battery-back-up.

Under the second option, instead of installing alarms in every dwelling unit, owners of multi-family buildings and community associations can install continually monitored alarms in rooms containing central heating, hot water, and other “fossil-fuel burning” equipment, and in all dwelling units and areas immediately adjacent to such central rooms and all areas adjacent to an enclosed parking facility. Unlike the Option 1 alarms, Option 2 alarms cannot be battery powered; they must be hard-wired and connected to a monitoring station that is staffed continuously. This option also requires the installation of alarms in dwelling units containing fossil-fuel burning equipment, but those alarms can be battery-powered. Building owners or community associations selecting this option have until Jan. 1, 2007 to comply and they must provide written notice of their decision to the local fire department by May 15, 2006. Under the revised regulations owners of multi-family housing and community associations who chose to install hard wired detectors in all individual units, as provided for in Option 1, will also be granted an extension on compliance until January 1, 2007 as long as they give written notification to their local fire department on or before May 15, 2006. If notice is received after May 15, 2006, permission will only be granted at the discretion of local fire officials and temporary detectors may be required until such hard wiring is completed.

The new carbon monoxide detector regulations will be enforced in the same way as the regulations requiring smoke detectors in residential buildings – owners seeking to sell their homes must obtain a certificate of compliance from the municipal fire department before they can transfer ownership. Owners who order the smoke detector and carbon monoxide certificates at the same time will be able to pay a single fee for the two inspections.

Most community associations will probably select Option 1 for two reasons: 1) The aggregate cost of installing battery-powered or hard wired, non monitored equipment in individual homes will usually be lower than the cost of installing hard-wired, continually monitored units in common areas; and 2) Installation and maintenance will be the responsibility of owners rather than a common area obligation of the association.

However, there may be some situations in which the common area installation will be more cost-effective, or some communities that prefer to make this an association rather than an individual-owner obligation and expense. For this reason, community association boards should compare the costs of the two compliance options before making a decision. Boards should also consider asking outside experts –alarm companies or their municipal fire departments — for guidance in complying with the new requirements. Boards that seek outside advice should get it in writing so if questions arise later, they will be able to show that they relied on the instructions of industry experts or enforcement authorities.

Although Option 1 requires alarms only in individual residences, associations should seriously consider installing them in common use areas (media rooms, fitness centers, clubhouses, function rooms, etc.), as well. The health risk that exists in individual homes also exists, at least to some extent, in these common areas, and it makes sense for the association to deal with it.

While the installation requirements are fairly straightforward, associations that select Option 2, or to hardwire under Option 1, may find that the compliance and notice deadlines are problematic. Option 1 requires owners to install alarms in their residences by March 31 of this year, but the compliance deadline for Option 2 and hardwiring under Option 1 is Jan. 1, 2007, and the notification date to the local fire department is May 15, 2006. Owners who try to sell their units during the gap between those dates could end up in compliance limbo; without detectors in their units or in the common areas, they may be unable to obtain the certificate they need to transfer ownership. To avoid that problem, associations selecting Option 2 or hardwiring under Option 1 should consider notifying the fire department of that decision in writing as soon as possible and before the May 15, 2006 deadline, so owners in the community will be able to demonstrate that the community has a compliance plan in place.

Boards should also send a notice to owners explaining the new carbon monoxide alarm requirements and outlining their obligations to install, inspect, and maintain detectors in their homes. It would be helpful to include information about the types of alarms permitted and where owners can obtain that equipment and installation assistance. Additionally, boards should notify owners who rent their residences of their responsibility, as landlords, to maintain, test, repair or replace the alarms at least annually and at the beginning of a new tenancy.

As with any new regulation, the carbon monoxide requirements may produce some initial uncertainty and confusion until fire departments, owners, and real estate professionals become more familiar with the new standards. The more information boards can collect and convey to owners, the smoother the compliance process is likely to be for their communities.