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NFPA 720 Scope Expands
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Issue 22: NFPA 720 Scope Expands

By Joe Talbert, P.E.


Carbon monoxide (CO) exposure has been recognized as a significant hazard to life and safety for a number of years. Fire departments in the United States responded to approximately 61,000 non-fire carbon monoxide incidents in 2005.1 The number of non-fire CO incidents reported to the NFPA increased by about 9 percent per year from 2003 through 2005. Approximately 500 CO poisoning deaths occur per year in the U.S.2

An increasing number of local governments have adopted ordinances requiring carbon monoxide detection and warning equipment in buildings other than dwellings. Examples of the occupancies in which ordinances may require CO detection and warning include places of assembly and day care centers. Because of this trend, a different approach to CO detection and alarms was warranted.


NFPA 720 Rewritten

The 2005 edition of this standard was titled Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide Warning Equipment in Dwelling Units.3 The 2005 edition only applied to dwelling units, which were defined as "one or more rooms arranged for the use of one or more individuals living together, providing complete independent living facilities..." The 2009 edition will be entitled Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment.3 The standard now applies to all buildings in which carbon monoxide detection and warning equipment is installed, a very significant expansion of the scope of the standard.

To assist the technical committee in its efforts to develop appropriate standards for the location and spacing of carbon monoxide detectors, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) commissioned a study entitled Development of a Technical Basis for Carbon Monoxide Detector Siting.2 This study was utilized by the technical committee to assist with the development of spacing and location requirements for CO detectors. The 2009 standard will require the following provisions for location of CO detectors in buildings other than dwelling units:

  1. On or near the ceiling in the immediate vicinity of fuel burning appliances and other sources of carbon monoxide.
  2. On every habitable level of the building based on an engineering evaluation considering potential sources and migration of carbon monoxide.
  3. In any area required by local statute.

 The standard is patterned after NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code and contains requirements for detectors, notification appliances, power supplies, off-premises signal transmission and inspection, testing and maintenance of carbon monoxide systems and their components.

Provisions for carbon monoxide detectors for use in dwelling units are covered in Chapter 9. This chapter calls for the installation of carbon monoxide alarms or detectors in the following locations:

  1. Outside of each separate dwelling unit sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms.
  2. On every occupiable level of a dwelling unit, including basements, but excluding attics and crawl spaces.
  3. Other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards.

Joe Talbert is with Rolf Jensen & Associates.

  1. Flynn, J., Non-fire Carbon Monoxide Incidents Reported in 2005, Fire Analysis and Research Division, National Fire Protection Association, June 2007.
  2. Beyler, C., and Gottuck, D., Development of a Technical Basis for Carbon Monoxide Detector Siting Research Project Final Report, The Fire Protection Research Foundation, October 2007.
  3. 2008 Annual Revision Cycle Report on Comments, A2008, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2008.

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