As of July 1, California law requires all homes to have a carbon monoxide detector installed. Does this mean that if you don't install the detector you may be visited by your local police or fire department? Probably not.
No one is expecting a California civil servant to knock on your door to inspect for a proper installation. Instead, this responsibility has been passed to your local Realtor. He or she will make sure that alarms are installed prior to the purchase or sale of a home.
Before we dig into the law let's talk about carbon monoxide vs. carbon dioxide; Carbon monoxide (CO) has been called the invisible killer because it is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, toxic gas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15,000 people per year are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States, and about 500 of these poisonings result in death.
Carbon monoxide is a gas that is created when fossil fuel (example: natural gas) is partially burned. When fossil fuels are fully burned they create carbon dioxide and steam, both of which are safe to breathe.
When we inhale carbon monoxide our bodies are fooled into thinking that it's oxygen so our natural alert system, the gasp for air, is short-circuited. The lack of oxygen makes us drowsy and can kill.
One of the reasons that CO poisoning is on the rise is that new homes are built to such high energy standards that “they” don't breathe. That is to say, there is very little air transfer between the interior and exterior so bad gases are trapped indoors.
When purchasing a CO detector you might consider buying the combination alarm (smoke and CO). It is not much more expensive, you'll have one less device to clutter your ceiling and you may save yourself the inconvenience of trying to determine which alarm is beeping at 2 a.m. because of a low battery.
So when should you install your alarm? Summer is a good time since most CO accidents happen in the winter because of poorly vented heating systems.
Lastly, how many should you install? Although building codes determine where you must place a smoke detector, the CO detector placement is governed by manufacturer recommendation, so read the box.
For more information, read these FAQ.