It is logical. Most cases of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning happen during the operation of heat-generating equipment and appliances. Furnaces and gas-fired generators that are poorly maintained and poorly vented are the main culprits. As people turn on their air conditioners, the number of CO poisoning incidents goes down. Out of sight, out of mind. Not.

The culprits also include hot-water heaters, pool heaters, barbeque grills, idling autos, lawnmowers, etc. I understand the attention given to heating equipment, but there are many other sources of deadly CO that are killing people year-round. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to see how our trade is equipped to combat CO ignorance.

I recently took an informal poll of some mechanical inspectors and contractors, asking them some pretty basic questions about CO and the importance of CO education. My questions included: Should CO detectors be mandatory in all buildings? Should contractors or inspectors recommend installation of CO detectors? Is it their moral obligation to recommend installation of CO detectors? Do inspectors carry hand-held CO monitors or would (you) consider carrying a monitor?

Of the few responses I received, I was surprised by the range of opinions showing no real consensus.


Of the inspectors/contractors who do support mandatory installation of CO detectors, there were a variety of answers. One respondent said that all buildings should have CO detectors, adding, “CO detectors should absolutely be in any residence or commercial establishment using gas, cooking fuel, or with a fireplace. CO detectors do exactly what they claim to do, which is to detect CO and save lives.” Chalk one up for the critics who think CO is only a danger in winter.

Other people agreed with this line of reasoning. One explained that CO detectors should all be hardwired into the building’s electrical system, rather than being battery operated.

Some other respondents said it is a good idea for residential buildings but not for commercial. One inspector said, “I do not believe that CO detectors should be mandatory in commercial buildings. I do believe that all commercial buildings that have equipment producing CO be tested by a licensed mechanical contractor and a printout of its findings be kept on file. This testing should be done on a yearly basis.

“With CO monitoring, I also believe that there will be a lot of nuisance alarms. Take a restaurant for example. With ventilation air of 15 cfm per person required, all it takes is a parking lot full of cars and the wind in the right direction to set off the alarm. I am sure that this will create a great deal of panic.”

Another individual felt there should be more discussion of the pros and cons of mandated detectors, while one inspector believes that there is no need for discussion of yet more “interference” by the government.

He said, “We have helmets, seat belts, etc. Pretty soon the government will tell you what day of the week to drive.”


If an inspector or contractor sees a situation where CO could be a problem, does he or she have a moral obligation to tell the home or business owner? Should an inspector freely offer recommendations for installing a CO detector? Once again, the responses showed mixed opinions.

One respondent said it was OK to offer recommendations as long as a specific brand name was not discussed. Another said that although it wasn’t an obligation to recommend a CO detector, it was the morally correct thing to do.

Equipment condition is the reason why one inspector said that he is free to make recommendations and he also added, “We have to consider public safety. We cannot require CO detectors, but we can certainly suggest them.”

Another inspector, who also is a licensed mechanical contractor, said that recommending CO detectors has little benefit to him from a business point of view. “Being a businessman competing with the utility companies there is nothing in it for me, except morally,” he said. “The utility companies mass market CO detectors through the utility bills, which is unfair competition.”

One more thought, it makes sense for HVAC service techs to carry CO monitors on them whenever they enter a building since they should include CO monitoring as part of a service call. But what about inspectors? One inspector said yes and noted, “I had a situation at a hair salon. The contractor turned off a heating unit and the landlord had a maintenance man turn it back on. Since I had my detector, I tested and turned off the unit. I informed the owner and probably saved some workers a hospital visit.”

But most said that they do not carry CO monitors, citing liability concerns and just plain stubbornness. I found out that some of these old dogs just don’t want to learn any new tricks. But at least the majority recognized CO as a year-round problem.

Publication date:04/23/2007