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Carbon Monoxide: A Step Backwards

Tim McElwainTim McElwain Posts: 3,278Member ✭✭✭


Editorial by Domenic Guarino Chairman and CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI) [u][color=#0000ff][/color][/u] .

Article appeared in Contracting Business magazine December 2010.


Jim Davis who post here works for NCI.


Well-intentioned legislators don’t realize they’re inadvertently closing the door on devices that truly protect people: LOW LEVEL CO MONITORS.



Recently proposed federal legislation (HR 1796) will require that carbon monoxide (CO) alarms be U.L. 2034 listed to be sold in the U.S. California just re­cently passed a similar law. These well-intentioned legisla­tors don't realize they are inadvertently attempting to close the door on the only devices that truly protect people of all ages and health conditions: low-level CO monitors.



The reason low-level CO monitors don't meet UL 2034 is because the standard was written to protect “normal, healthy adults" from conditions that could lead to severe acute illness or immediate death. The standard's lowest acceptable alarm levels allow ongoing, chronic exposure to CO levels under 70 ppm (parts per million) indefinitely. There's a ton of scientific evidence that long-term exposure to concentrations as low as 15 ppm can lead to a multitude of illnesses and diseases.



Some Statistics: Here are just a few facts published by leading CO poisoning expert, Dr. David G. Penney, Ph.D. on his website, [u][color=#0000ff][/color][/u] . Annually in the U.S., tens of thousands of people seek medical attention or lose several days, weeks, and even months of normal activity from CO exposure. Each year there are over 40,000 emergency depart­ment visits for CO poisoning. Furthermore, more than 450 people die through unintentional CO exposure, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.



Petty adds that, “an emerging body of evidence suggests lon­ger exposures to lower levels of CO, i.e. chronic CO poisoning, are capable of producing myriad debilitating residual effects that may continue for days, weeks, months, and even years:


A paper by The Mayo Clinic reports that a study done in a southwest U.S. hospital indicated that 20% of patients seeking aid for chronic flu symptoms were found to have elevated levels of carbon monoxide.




How Do You Protect Your Customers? Currently only two manufacturers - National Safety Institute (NSI) and CO Experts - offer low-level CO monitors. These devices measure concentrations as low as 5 ppm with great accu­racy and alarm at levels of 15 ppm or less. Both products are superior to most of the alarms on the market, as they use electrochemical sensors, which are much more accurate and reliable than the semiconductor sensors prevalent in store bought UL alarms.



NSI is changing its labeling to reflect the fact that the

product is a "monitor," not a UL-listed alarm or detector, and it should be used in addition to a legally required alarm in a residential application. This language should be suf­ficient to allow contractors to continue to sell these impor­tant health and life saving devices.



These monitors are typically available through trained con­tractor resellers and should be installed in addition to a UL 2034 listed alarm. Unfortunately, most consumers are igno­rant about the dangerous levels that UL listed alarms allow, thinking that the government has the knowledge to keep their families safe. Unless educated by a trained seller of low-level CO monitors, the average consumer may never know of the dangers - until it's too late.



A History Lesson: Nearly two decades ago, allowable CO alarm levels from UL listed devices were much lower, with alarms sounding at levels as low as 30 ppm. There were also low-level alarms made by several manufactur­ers that detected levels as low as 15 PPM. Unfortunately utilities and fire departments were getting so many CO calls they deemed as "false alarms:' that they lobbied manufacturers, and subsequently Under-writers Laboratories, to increase minimum levels at which alarms would go off. Neither of these public entities had the instrumen­tation nor the training to detect or diagnose low-level emissions. It's interesting though, that firefight­ers are required to wear breathing apparatus at CO levels above 30 ppm.



Ironically, the very people who we rely on to safeguard us when it comes to CO poisoning are actually responsible for tens of thousands of low-level CO poisonings over the last 10-plus years, as they convinced UL to raise the minimum alarm levels to 70 ppm for up to four hours.



What Can You Do? As an HVAC contractor you're in the best position to provide additional protection to your customers. This can be enhanced through consumer edu­cation, and by educating yourself on the dangers of carbon monoxide, how to measure it, and how to test your custom­ers' homes for conditions that lead to CO emissions. If you haven't already, be sure to get your field personnel trained and certified so you can help keep your customers' families safe, and provide the best possible level of protection avail­able to safeguard them when you're not there to.


  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Posts: 2,472Member ✭✭✭
    Homeowner question.

    Can a retail customer, a homeowner, get one of these? I already have two Big Box store CO detectors.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Posts: 3,278Member ✭✭✭
    The NCI Monitor

    can only be purchased from NCI after attending their classes I believe.

    The CO- Experts can be purchased at

    CO Experts Model 2010

    CO Experts Low Level CO Monitor Model 2010 is the most sensitive CO detector you can buy and it is EXCLUSIVELY sold in the aviation market by

    Use Coupon Code COEXP2010 for free FedEx Ground Shipping.


    List: $249.00

    Our Price: $179.00

    Savings: $70.00
  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Posts: 2,472Member ✭✭✭
    Thank you.

    I just ordered one.
  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Posts: 2,472Member ✭✭✭
    Battery life???

    I got one of those CO detectors and it seems to work well. The green light blinks about once a minute. It always reads 0 PPM, but I do not have any gas appliances except my heating (and hot water) boiler, serviced every year, in the attached garage, so that is expected. If I push the Test Button, it does what the instruction sheet says  it should to.

    It comes with a 9  volt battery, a Lithium one. In smoke detector service, these last 5 years or more. I think they are claimed to last 7 years and once I saw them advertized to last 10 years. They last a very long time in one of my photographic light meters, but that takes extremely little current. I realize the life depends on whatever the current draw is.

    But in this CO Experts CO detector, the battery lasts only about 6 months. I just put the third battery in last night. Is this to be expected? Or is there something wrong with the CO detector? I am willing to replace the battery every 6 months if necessary, but if something is wrong, maybe I should do something about it. I wish it would last a year.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Posts: 700Member ✭✭
    CO alarms

    Pennsylvania is set to adopt their version of mandatory UL listed CO alarms. The bill is sitting in appropriations but will pass. It requires annual inspection by.................home inspectors! In addition, rental units will be required to be inspected when tenants leave. I tried to get heard but was shut out.

    There is legislation floating out there in Congress attempting to outlaw unlisted CO 'alarms'. This is a stinky move by the big alarm mfrs. in bed with the fire marshals and fire depts. Colllectively, they want to sell a bunch of cheap POS units so they can rest on their laurels as being caring and responsible. This also ensures less CO responses for those fire depts already understaffed.

    To me one of the key shortcomings of a UL listed CO alarm is the premise that in order for it to sound, it waits until you have approximately 10% CoHb then supposedly alerts just in time to wake you and save your life. This means in order for it to work, you already must have CO poisoning! Gee, thanks...BTW, you're looking at CO poisoning for at least 4hrs on the low end. This is nuts! This doesn't even address the reliability issue which has been and still is a problem with UL listed junk.

    The mortality and morbidity rates are grossly inaccurate because of the lack of a reliable, accurate reporting system. We know the true exposure rates are far higher and will get much worse as time goes on.
  • Charles JohnsonCharles Johnson Posts: 24Member
    Outlaw low level monitors??

    That would be extremely stupid. Force someone to buy a defective alarm and not allow the real alarms!

    I don't have a problem with someone buying a UL alarm as long as they have a low level also. Go buy a $20 UL approved unit, and then also install a real CO alarm such as the NSI 3000 or CO Experts model.

    Has anyone seen the GRI study on CO alarm reliability? Reveals some of the shortcomings of the UL listing.
  • icesailoricesailor Posts: 7,265Member ✭✭✭✭
    UL Listings:

    It costs a lot of money to get a UL Listing. The more money, the better the listing. No cash, no approval.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Posts: 700Member ✭✭
    UL listings

    A typical listing costs about $15K plus paying for the 4 quarterly unannounced plant inspections per year.

    The UL 2034/ 2075 listings allow for chronic low level CO poisoning. Worse yet, if your listed CO alarm sounds, that guarantees you already have CO poisoning. Those alarms are set to sound based upon a carboxyhemoglobin level of at least 10%. Gee thanks for nothing.

    Listed CO alarms are known to be very unreliable still.

    At their lowest response level, you can be exposed to 70ppm for up to 4 hours before the alarm sounds or 69ppm for 30 days. Gee thanks. They deliberately dummied the alarms to reduce calls for non-life threatening situations. Gee thanks.
  • icesailoricesailor Posts: 7,265Member ✭✭✭✭
    Mandated Alarms:

    Them's fight'n words boy!

    Can't have any rules or regulations that night cut into the profit margin of corporations or cause any fire department to go on any "Possible" CO contamination call. I find that a lot of those "professionals" are clueless as to what they are seeing and can easily leave a CO problems after declaring that there isn't a problem. When in fact, there is.

    I've experienced it.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Posts: 700Member ✭✭
    unqualified first responders

    The fire depts, utilities, fire marshals and other first responders are wholly unqualified to respond to CO-related calls. Also, the incident reporting forms and mechanisms are a joke so the actual numbers of exposure are MUCH higher than being reported.
  • icesailoricesailor Posts: 7,265Member ✭✭✭✭

    Especially when they go to a CO alarm activation and check with their 10 YO CO/Gas Sniffer with the original batteries and original calibration.

    Their solution is to take the new batteries out and leave them out. Ignore the peeping alarms.
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