Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas produced when fuels such as propane, gasoline, natural gas, heating oil or wood have insufficient air to burn completely. This can happen in any appliance or device that burns these fuels such as a stove, furnace, fireplace, hot water heater, vehicle engine, portable generator.

On October 15, 2014 an amendment to the Ontario Fire Code came into effect requiring that all residential occupancies containing:

a fuel burning appliance,

a fireplace,

or a storage garage,

be equipped with Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

The following is a brief summary of the background of the law and its effect on fire and life safety.

Fire and building safety in Ontario is governed by two complimenting legislative regulations, the Ontario Building Code (made under the Building Code Act, 1992) and the Ontario Fire Code (made under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.

Since 2001 the Ontario Building Code required the installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms in all new residential occupancy construction. The recent amendment to the Fire Code was designed to bring the regulation in line with the Building Code requirement, but not surpass it. In effect, prior to October 15, 2014 only residential occupancies built after 2001 were required to be equipped with Carbon Monoxide Alarms, and now ALL residential occupancies have this requirement.

There are two important dates when all requisite installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms must be completed:

  • April 15, 2015, in the case of buildings that contain no more than six suites of residential occupancy.
  • October 15, 2015, in the case of buildings that contain more than six suites of residential occupancy

 Installation requirements:

Fuel-burning appliance or fireplace in a suite of residential occupancy.

If a fuel-burning appliance or a fireplace is installed in a suite of residential occupancy, a carbon monoxide alarm must be installed adjacent to each sleeping area in the suite. This applies to every apartment suite that may contain a fireplace, gas stove, gas dryer, gas water heater, furnace, or any other fuel burning appliance, within the confines of the apartment.

Fuel-burning appliance in a service room.

If a fuel-burning appliance is installed in a service room that is not in a suite of residential occupancy, a carbon monoxide alarm must be installed:

(a) in the service room, and

(b) adjacent to each sleeping area in each suite of residential occupancy that has a common wall or common floor/ceiling assembly with the service room.

This applies to service rooms containing fuel burning appliances including, but not limited to a water heater, boiler, furnace, generator, or any other such appliance. In this situation Carbon Monoxide Alarms are required to be installed inside the service room, and adjacent to each sleeping area in a suite of residential occupancy that has a common wall, floor or ceiling assembly with the service room. In effect, all suites of residential occupancy above or below the service room, or on the same level as the service room should be equipped with Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

Buildings containing a storage garage.

If a building contains a storage garage, a carbon monoxide alarm must be installed adjacent to each sleeping area in each suite of residential occupancy that has a common wall or common floor/ceiling assembly with the storage garage. In effect, all suites of residential occupancy above or below the storage garage, or on the same level as the service room should be equipped with Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

 Operation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

A carbon monoxide alarm must:

(a) be permanently connected to an electrical circuit with no disconnect switch between the overcurrent device and the carbon monoxide alarm,

(b) be battery-operated, or

(c) be plugged into an electrical receptacle.

Any one or a combination of the modes of operation is acceptable.

 Carbon Monoxide Alarm Standards.

A carbon monoxide alarm must meet the requirements of CAN/CSA-6.19, “Residential Carbon Monoxide Alarming Devices” or UL 2034, “Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms”.

 Location of Installation.

A carbon monoxide alarm must be mechanically fixed, attached, plugged in or placed at the manufacturer’s recommended height or, if the manufacturer has not recommended a height, on or near the ceiling.

Follow manufacturer’s instructions respecting the location and manner of installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

 Audible Alarm.

A carbon monoxide alarm that is installed adjacent to a sleeping area must be equipped with an alarm that is audible throughout the sleeping area, even if any doors between the carbon monoxide alarm and any parts of the sleeping area are closed.

The audible alarm signal for carbon monoxide alarms consists of a temporal 4-tone pattern. This pattern consists of four spaced tones followed by a five-second silent period, which repeats for at least four minutes. After four minutes the five-second silent period is increased to 60 seconds. The alarm signal repeats until the alarm resets or is manually silenced. Some carbon monoxide alarms also have a visual alarm indicator, but this is not required by the code.

Maintenance and Testing.

It is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain carbon monoxide alarms in operating condition. In addition primary and secondary power supplies that serve carbon monoxide alarms must be maintained in operating condition.

The landlord of each rental dwelling unit must give the tenant a copy of the carbon monoxide alarm manufacturer’s maintenance instructions or approved alternative maintenance instructions.

A tenant of a rental dwelling unit, including must notify the landlord as soon as the tenant becomes aware that:

(a) a carbon monoxide alarm in the unit is disconnected,

(b) a carbon monoxide alarm in the unit is not operating, or

(c) the operation of a carbon monoxide alarm in the unit is impaired.

No person shall disable a carbon monoxide alarm.

The landlord must test carbon monoxide alarms annually and after every change in tenancy.

In addition, the landlord must test battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms after the battery is replaced, and carbon monoxide alarms that are connected to an electrical circuit after any change is made to the electrical circuit. For the purposes of compliance with the Fire Code carbon monoxide alarms are tested by activating the carbon monoxide alarm test feature.

A carbon monoxide alarm must be replaced within the time frame indicated by the manufacturer.

When replacing carbon monoxide alarms in buildings constructed after August 6, 2001, the same rules apply, as stated above. In certain circumstances the Chief Fire Official may approve an alternative if, in the opinion of the Chief Fire Official, the alternative provides life safety protection equivalent to or greater than the life safety protection that would be provided by the requirement.

Please be advised that the Chief Fire Official has the authority to enforce the Fire Code within his or her jurisdiction and should be contacted prior to implementing any opinion expressed in this document.

Carbon Monoxide Q & A for Property Managers

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas produced when fuels such as propane, gasoline, natural gas, heating oil or wood have insufficient air to burn completely. This can happen in any appliance or device that burns these fuels such as a stove, furnace, fireplace, hot water heater, vehicle engine, portable generator.

Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea and dizziness, as well as confusion, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. In high concentrations, CO can be fatal.

When are CO alarms required to be installed within an apartment building?

CO alarm is required to be installed adjacent to each sleeping area within the apartment suite:

  • If a fuel-burning appliance or a fireplace is installed in the apartment suite.
  • If an apartment suite shares a common wall or floor/ceiling assembly with a garage.
  • If an apartment suite shares a common wall or floor/ceiling assembly with a service room containing a fuel-burning appliance.

CO alarm is required to be installed in the service room:

  • If the apartment building’s service room contains a fuel-burning appliance.

When are CO alarms NOT required to be installed within an apartment suite?

CO alarms are NOT required to be installed within an apartment suite:

    • If an apartment suite shares a common wall or floor/ceiling assembly with a suite containing a fuel-burning appliance or fireplace.
    • If an apartment suite is located across the corridor from a service room containing a fuel-burning appliance.
  • If an apartment suite has no fuel burning appliance, but has concealed spaces that contain ducts servicing fuel fire appliances located outside of the suite

Where to Install CO Alarms?

CO alarms must be installed in all suites of residential occupancy with a fuel-burning appliance, fireplace, and/or storage garage. The location of CO alarms must be adjacent to all sleeping areas of the suite of residential occupancy. In buildings where each suite does not have a fire-burning appliance or fireplace CO alarms must be installed only those suites that share a common wall or floor/ceiling assembly with a service room containing a fuel-burning appliance, or storage garages. CO alarms must be installed inside service rooms containing a fuel-burning appliance.

CO alarms are not required to be installed in suites of residential occupancy located across the corridor from a service room containing a fuel-burning appliance.

Where NOT to Install CO Alarms?

Certain locations may present circumstances that interfere with the proper operation of CO alarms. These circumstances may cause false alarms or trouble signals.

CO alarms should NOT be installed in the following locations:

  • Temperature may drop below 4.4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) or exceed 37.8 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Near paint thinner fumes or household cleaning products. Proper ventilation is necessary when using these types of chemicals.
  • Within 1.5m (5 feet) of any cooking or open flame appliances such as furnaces, stoves and fireplaces.
  • In exhaust streams from gas engines, vents, flues or chimneys.
  • In close proximity to an automobile exhaust pipe; this will damage the alarm.

Why are CO alarms required to be installed adjacent to sleeping areas in the home? Proper placement of a CO alarm is important. The CO alarm must be located adjacent to all sleeping areas of the home to increase the likelihood that sleeping occupants will hear the alarm if it goes off. The fire code requires that the CO alarm must be audible even through a closed door of a sleeping area.

At what height should CO alarms be installed? Unlike smoke, which rises to the ceiling, CO mixes with air. Hence CO alarms may be installed at any height. However, if a combination smoke/CO alarm is used, it must be installed on or near the ceiling as per manufacturer’s instructions, to ensure that it can detect smoke effectively.

Do CO alarms sound different from smoke alarms? Yes. CO alarms sound different from smoke alarms when they activate. It’s important to become familiar with the operation of the audible CO alarm to be able to distinguish it from a low-battery warning and end-of-life warning, for both CO and smoke alarms. The manufacturer’s instruction manual should be consulted to obtain further information on the characteristics of the audible signals for each device.

Why is the Ontario Fire Code being amended? Changes to the Ontario Fire Code come as a result of the passing of the Hawkins Gignac Act, which received Royal Assent in December 2013. This Act was named in honour of the Hawkins family who were tragically killed in their Woodstock, Ontario home, as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The Hawkins Gignac Act also proclaimed the week beginning November 1st as Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

Does the amendment to the Ontario Fire Code impact the Ontario Building Code?

The Ontario Fire Code and Ontario Building Code are complimentary regulations as they pertain to fire and life safety, and in this case carbon monoxide alarms. Since 2001 the Ontario Building Code has required all newly constructed buildings to be equipped with CO alarms. The new Fire Code regulations affect all buildings in Ontario; including buildings constructed before 2001, which until now were not governed by Provincial legislation respecting the installation of carbon monoxide alarms. The new Fire Code CO alarm requirements are in line with the existing Building Code requirements for building constructed after 2001. Additionally, the Fire Code sets out the maintenance and testing schemes for CO alarms installed in all buildings, regardless of when they were constructed. Certain municipalities, including the City of Toronto, have had city by-laws in place to regulate installation of CO alarms; the Ontario Fire Code supersedes all municipal by-laws respecting fire safety, and in particular those regulations dealing with CO alarms.

 When do the CO alarm regulation take effect? The CO alarm regulation came into effect on October 15, 2014.

Buildings with six suites or residential occupancy or less must comply with the installation and replacement requirements within 6 months of the law. The deadline for completion is April 15, 2015.

Buildings with more than six suites of residential occupancy must comply with the installation and replacement requirements within 12 months of the new regulation. The deadline for completion is October 15, 2015. The requirement with respect to maintenance and testing of existing CO alarms came into effect on October 15, 2014.

Who is responsible for installing CO alarms in rental apartments? The landlord is responsible for installation of CO alarms.

Who is responsible for maintenance and testing of CO alarms in rental apartments? The landlord is responsible for maintenance and testing of CO alarms. The landlord is also responsible for providing CO alarm maintenance instructions to the tenant.

Who is responsible for installation and maintenance of CO alarms in residential condominium suites? The owner of the condominium suite is responsible for installation and maintenance of CO alarms in the suite. In some cases if an agreement exists between the owner and the condominium corporation, the corporation takes on this responsibility on behalf of the owner.

If the owner rents out the condominium suite to a tenant, the owner, or the condominium corporation, in case of an agreement to the effect, takes on the role of the landlord and is responsible for installation and maintenance of CO alarms.

Do tenants have responsibilities under the CO alarm regulation? Tenants must notify the landlord when they become aware that a CO alarm in their unit is disconnected, not operating, or its operation is impaired. Tenants must not disable CO alarms.

How often must CO alarms be tested? CO alarms must be tested annually, after the battery is replaced and after every change in tenancy. CO alarms that are connected to an electrical circuit must be tested after any change is made to the electrical circuit.

How is a CO alarm test performed? By activating the test feature as described in the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.

Are records of CO alarm testing required? Yes. If the code requires tests, corrective measure, or operational procedures to be carried out then records must be kept for at least two years, for examination by the Chief Fire Official.

Building Fire Safety Plans Property Managers must ensure that the building Fire Safety Plan, along with Persons Requiring Assistance Lists are reviewed and signed off on an annual basis. Additionally, building supervisory staff must receive documented training on the fire safety plan, including all emergency procedures. If new life safety systems and / or devices are installed at a property, the Fire Safety Plan must be updated.