New CO law business, learning opportunity

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

MARINA DEL REY, Calif.—California recently became the 35th state in the nation with carbon monoxide legislation. As of July 1, all existing single-family homes with an attached garage or a fossil fuel source are required to install CO alarms within the home. Previous legislation already mandated the detectors in new homes.

The law is a way for the industry both to increase business and its knowledge and expertise regarding the devices, according to John Hopper, president of the California Alarm Association, which is based here.

It does not require homeowners to purchase monitored CO alarms instead of ones they can buy at a hardware store. However, Hopper, VP of industry relations and special projects for Monterey-based Sentry Alarm Systems of America, believes many will chose the monitored option as the safest.

“Our assessment would be that people that have existing [fire and/or security] alarm systems in their homes would most likely chose this as their first option,” Hopper told Security Systems News in early August. “It really enhances the value of the system when people are away from home.” For example, he said, a monitored system ensures pets are protected when their owners aren’t home.

In the past, Hopper said, some in the industry have shied away from selling CO detectors “because there was not a common protocol within the fire agencies” about how to handle a signal. “In other words, if you have a central station and you receive one of those signals, what are you supposed to do about it?”

In some jurisdictions, he said, fire departments were happy to respond but others regarded it as more of “a nuisance alarm because they didn’t perceive it as a real emergency,” necessitating immediate action.

But now, he said, the passage of the law, “has forced our industry to develop protocols and procedures for our sales teams and installation crews, and to address the concerns of consumers. So, in many respects, it has forced us to deal with the issue, and secondly, the state law has positioned us to perhaps increase revenues for the industry, from sales of the devices and associated monitoring.”

While protocols for central stations vary depending on the jurisdiction, Hopper said that now a “typical protocol” for a CO signal would be similar to an “enhanced verification” call for burglar alarms—a call would go out to the home or to parties on the responsible list before a fire agency would be contacted.

Hopper in early August attended a meeting of the East Bay Alarm Association, a CAA regional chapter, where Tim Tracy, Northern California district manager for Honeywell Security & Communications, gave a talk on the new CO law. Honeywell manufactures CO detectors.

Tracy told SSN he addressed misconceptions about the new state law, which also will apply to apartment building and other multi-family leased or rental dwellings as of January 1, 2013, and talked about the effects of carbon monoxide.

The odorless gas is one of the leading causes of accidental poisoning deaths in this country, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

While gas heaters are a primary source of CO, Tracy said other gas appliances can generate it. He cited a case in California where a water heater was the source.

Hopper said, “From the association’s standpoint, we would just urge those in the industry to work closely with their manufacturing and vendor partners to get a clear understanding of the capabilities of the devices.”

For example, he said, detectors have a limited number of years of life expectancy and have specific installation instructions from the manufacturer.

It is no longer believed that CO detectors must be mounted near the floor, Hopper said. That was based on the belief that CO was heavier than air, but the office of the California State Fire Marshal says its density is similar to that of air at room temperature.

Tracy said, “It’s really the same suggested mounting location that you would use for a smoke detector.”