Common Item Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisonings in Rentals

Washington is the latest state to tighten up its carbon monoxide alarm rules. To date, 35 or more states regulate carbon monoxide detectors in rental properties.

The new rules are in response to thousands of deaths that have occurred there due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Most notably, after a 2006 windstorm which knocked out power, over 300 people were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and eight people died. Most of these exposures were due to charcoal being used in enclosed spaces.

Misuse of charcoal is one of the most common ways tenants generate lethal carbon monoxide. Small gasoline power equipment like weed trimmers and chain saws, gas and camp stoves, lanterns, burning wood, and gas ranges, ovens, or furnaces are other common sources. Tobacco smoke is a significant source of carbon monoxide in homes with smokers.

In Washington, by January 1, 2012, all existing residences in Washington must be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors, with the exception of owner-occupied homes.

Meanwhile, the detectors must be added as a condition to pulling a permit for work on the rental property, or if a sleeping area is added. Exceptions include work involving the exterior surfaces of dwellings, such as the replacement of roofing or siding, the addition or replacement of windows, doors, a porch or deck, and electrical permits. Installation, alteration or repairs of noncombustion plumbing or mechanical systems also are exempt from the requirements of this section.

Single station carbon monoxide alarms must be listed as complying with UL 2034, and placed just outside of sleeping areas.

Landlords need to take the lead in order to avoid injuries, and any resulting liabilities. It is clear that tenants don’t always know that their actions are risky.

Warn tenants never to use a charcoal or gas grill inside, including the garage. This is particularly important if there is a power outage and the tenant cannot use the normal appliances. Never burn charcoal in a fireplace. A charcoal fire will not create a chimney draft strong enough to push the carbon monoxide to the outside.

Tenants and landlords must never use a generator inside a rental unit, garage, carport, basement, or near an outside window, door, or vent. Generators should be at least 15 feet away from buildings. Even at 15 feet away, air flow patterns could still blow carbon monoxide into homes through attic vents, windows, or doors, so it’s very important to have a working carbon monoxide detector inside the home.

Never sleep in a room while using an unvented gas or kerosene heater.

Landlords must have oil and gas appliances and fireplaces, as well as wood stoves, checked every year by a trained professional.

Make sure chimneys and flues are routinely checked and cleaned. Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.

Don’t use unvented fueled heaters.

Let the tenants know that if they suspect a gas leak, they must leave the home immediately, call 911 from outside the unit, and contact the gas company. Don’t go back into the home until the problem has been resolved.

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