Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for December 30, 2006

Only two more shopping days until the law takes effect!

From the Southern Illinoisan...

Are you going to be safe - and within the law - this year?

By Andrea Hahn, The Southern

The Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector Act becomes Illinois law Jan. 1, 2007. The law requires that residences using fossil fuels or having an attached garage must be equipped with at least one approved and working carbon monoxide alarm within 15 feet of every room used for sleeping.

If a dwelling uses electric heat and does not have an attached garage, it is exempt from this requirement.

There are three alarm types available. In ascending order of cost, they are:


Plug-in style with battery back-up

Hard-wired into the AC power line, again with battery back-up.

Look for the "UL" symbol on the package.

Some units alarm both for smoke and carbon monoxide.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in its early stages are similar to flu symptoms, including headache and nausea.

It's hard to keep the carbon monoxide detectors on the shelves at the Murdale True Value Hardware Store in Carbondale.

Flint Helton, Murdale employee, said there are at least 300 carbon monoxide alarms in the back room - but most are already sold to rental property managers. There are two benefits to getting into the store and buying now. One is, because the store is buying in bulk, some of the models are offered temporarily at discounted prices.

The other reason for buying now is that as of Monday, if your residence burns fossil fuels or has an attached garage, having an approved and functioning carbon monoxide alarm installed within 15 feet of every room used for sleeping is the law.

Helton said the alarms sold "every once in awhile" before the Illinois legislature voted to make the devices mandatory for most homes. Now, with installation deadline looming, the trickle of sales has become a steady flow.

But wait - what is carbon monoxide and how does it get into people's homes? Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous that which can be lethal if inhaled. Under normal conditions, burning fossil fuels to heat a home or a water supply in a home causes the production of carbon dioxide, which is not poisonous and is, in fact, the same gas we exhale when we breathe.

However, if the fossil fuel - such as propane or natural gas - is not burning properly, carbon monoxide is produced. Inhaling carbon monoxide prevents absorption of oxygen - and that can be fatal.

The symptoms of inhaling carbon monoxide are grogginess, headache and nausea, not necessarily shortness of breath. That means a person who is sleeping in an area where carbon monoxide is present could simply keep on sleeping - forever - without ever realizing the danger.

Jonnita Leinenbach of Amerigas in Harrisburg said fuel companies odorize propane before it is delivered. However, a propane leak and a carbon monoxide problem are not the same thing, she said. Consumers should not rely on the odorization of their fossil fuel to warn them about carbon monoxide.

Jeff Woodruff, owner of Woodruff Real Estate Management - one of the larger such companies in the Carbondale area - said he estimates the new requirement is costing him about $10,000 to outfit about half of the 200 or so properties he owns that use fossil fuels. However, he said, he'd rather spend the money than know a life was lost in one of his residences because of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Woodruff said he has never had a carbon monoxide problem in any of the residences he manages.

"(Carbon monoxide poisoning in a residence) is a relatively rare occurrence," he said. "It's less common than fires, certainly. It only occurs when you have a malfunctioning burner and a faulty ventilation system. Nonetheless, I can't think of anything worse for a property owner than having an injury or illness caused by a problem on the property."

Woodruff said he has incorporated the carbon monoxide alarm installation into the annual smoke detector checking program he already has in place. While he is obligated only to install the alarms - not to keep them supplied with working batteries - he said he has opted for hardwire alarms whenever possible. It lessens the chance for human error in forgetting to change batteries, he said.

Bruce Martin, a State Farm insurance representative in Murphysboro, said he doesn't anticipate carbon monoxide alarms becoming the same type of home insurance issue as smoke alarms have become. Under some circumstances, home or renters insurance is all but impossible to get for residences without working smoke detectors, he said.

The difference, from an insurer's point of view, is that carbon monoxide rarely causes property damage. The new law may impact insuring rental property owners, he said, but right now, it's not an issue for insurance companies.

There are legal penalties for failing to install a working carbon monoxide alarm. Failing to install an alarm is a Class B misdemeanor. Tampering with one that is installed - even just by removing the batteries and not replacing them - is a Class A misdemeanor the first time. If there is a conviction, the second charge is a Class 4 felony.