CO Detection Research Projects May Impact Future Requirements

Is CO detection an important part of what you do? There are two research projects that may impact future carbon monoxide product certification and installation requirements: one is an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) initiative and the other is a Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) initiative.

Here’s some more detailed information about these initiatives, and how they may have an effect on future requirements.


1. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Research Project

The goal of the UL initiative is to determine if CO detection installed in high altitude applications (between 5,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level) provides adequate life safety protection. The genesis of this project actually started in 2009, when Colorado signed a bill into law requiring CO detection in one- and two-family dwellings and rental properties. Soon thereafter, several Colorado code authorities became concerned whether CO alarms or detectors installed in the Rocky Mountains would work properly. The reason for their concern is that the current edition of ANSI/UL 2034 does not contain test protocols to address the performance of CO alarms installed more than 530 feet above sea level.

Then in 2011, UL formed a Task Group (TG) to determine if CO alarms installed in altitudes up to 12,800 feet above sea level will activate within the ANSI/UL 2034 specified alarm thresholds, and requested that UL assess the performance of current CO alarms by conducting field sensitivity tests in Colorado.

As a direct result, UL collected 28 sample products from retail and internet outlets. The samples represented variants of the existing certified sensing technologies and were tested at the UL Northbrook Illinois facility for normal operation and sensitivity testing at approximately 560 ft above sea level. The same samples (and the UL test chamber) were then shipped to Colorado where a series of sensitivity tests were conducted at 5,200 ft in Denver and 10,000 feet in Breckinridge, followed by testing on Mt. Evans at approx. 12,000 feet.

All 28 CO alarms activated within the respective ANSI/UL 2034 alarm thresholds; however, several models did activate early at the 70ppm threshold at 10,000 feet and 12,800 feet above sea level.

Based on this information, a proposal to add high altitude performance test protocols to the ANSI/UL 2034 product standard is currently being reviewed by the Standards Technical Panel (STP). Once the proposal is approved by the STP, a future compliance will be established for all carbon monoxide alarms and detectors.

fprf_logo2. Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) Research Project

The goal of the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) initiative is to determine if CO gas is capable of diffusing through solid walls. This is important since current model codes require CO detection in or near “sleeping rooms” of newly constructed one- and two-family dwellings, hotels, dormitories, apartment buildings, hospitals, and nursing homes that have a permanently installed fuel-burning appliance or have an attached “communicating” garage. However, the model codes do not require CO detection if there are no “communicating openings” between an attached garage and the occupied areas of the building.

In 2013, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that CO is capable of diffusing across single-and double-layer gypsum wallboard. In 2014, the FPRF formed a Task Group to review the JAMA report and to initiate a literature search on studies of CO diffusion through walls. The Task Group also intends to identify incidents where CO dispersed from an attached garage to occupied areas of a building with no communicating openings.

Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) published the final report Carbon Monoxide Diffusion Project and the findings support the recent claim that CO gas is capable of diffusing through walls at a rate that presents a danger to building occupants. The report may bring about stricter requirements in the 2018 model codes by removing the “communicating opening” provision. However, additional research may be needed to effect a change in the 2018 model codes.

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About Richard Roberts

Richard Roberts is Industry Affairs Manager at Honeywell Fire Safety, with over 30 years in the fire alarm and carbon monoxide market. His experience spans the installation, sales, and product development of code-compliant products and systems. Richard is a member of eight NFPA Technical Committees and serves on the Board of Directors for the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) and Chair of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Smoke & CO Committee and Building Codes Committee.

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