Carbon monoxide detectors may soon be required

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— Two small efforts have thus far failed, but the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County soon could join the state and other Colorado communities in efforts to require carbon monoxide detectors in homes.

With five CO poisoning deaths in Colorado this winter - including a Denver family of four in an Aspen home during Thanksgiving weekend - carbon monoxide detection has become a high-profile subject of late. Locally, the idea of requiring detection has been raised during debates about a Steamboat Springs ordinance crafted in response to a different tragedy.

Creation of the ordinance - aimed at improving city regulations for secondary residential units - was driven by the death of a Steamboat man last year in a converted garage apartment that was not legally registered with the city and lacked smoke detectors. The man, David Engle, died of smoke inhalation.

The ordinance would close an enforcement loophole and require inspection for health and safety issues of secondary units, which are small, long-term rentals located on the same lots as principal dwelling units. The proposed inspection criteria covers issues such as smoke detection, fire separation and guard rails. When the ordinance went before the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Jan. 8, Commissioner Dick Curtis also hoped to attach requirements for CO monitors and fire extinguishers.

"It's not a burden at all. It's a health and safety issue," Curtis said. "This would go a long way to prevent drastic situations that have happened."

Other planning commissioners, however, felt it was inappropriate to add CO detector and fire extinguisher requirements to an ordinance that would apply only to secondary units; they preferred to have city staff and the Routt County Regional Building Department look at adding the requirements on a broader scale.

Curtis disagreed.

"I would hope that by starting small we could work up," he said.

Curtis' sentiments were echoed Tuesday when the Steamboat Springs City Council considered the secondary unit ordinance on its first of two readings. Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski also pushed to add a CO monitor requirement but was met with a similar response.

"It's a $30 thing that saves lives," Hermacinski said.

Tom Leeson, city director of planning and community development, and Carl Dunham, Routt County Regional Building Department official, said the issue will be taken up.

"It was left to us to put that into our code adoption. We're working toward that end right now. The goal would be April," Dunham said. "It's certainly a good thing for anybody to do now. I highly recommend it. It's just a matter of whether it needs to be codified."

Aspen has passed an ordinance that will require carbon monoxide detectors in all residential and lodging units by March 2 and communities such as Glenwood Springs and Garfield County have debated similar laws, according to the Aspen Times.

At the state level, House Bill 1091 would require carbon monoxide detectors in new homes, homes that are being sold, new apartment buildings and apartments that have become vacant and will be rented again. Businesses, commercial properties such as motels and vacation condos and homes and apartments that remain occupied would not be subject to the proposed regulation.

The bill went before the House Committee on Business Affairs and Labor on Jan. 13 for witness testimony and committee discussion only.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and nonirritating gas that causes fatigue and nausea. It is created when a fuel source - propane, kerosene, wood or gas, among others - does not fully burn. The carbon monoxide then replaces oxygen in the air, leading to sickness and suffocation.

Last month, Major Heating Vice President Bob Major said poorly installed and maintained equipment, along with blocked exhaust routes, are the biggest risk factors he sees in Steamboat homes.

Alarms can be purchased in Steamboat for about $20 to $60 at stores such as Ace at the Curve and Wal-Mart. The more expensive versions feature digital readouts and often can detect smoke, as well. Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue responds to about 50 carbon monoxide alarms a year, public education coordinator Deb Funston said last month, but there have been no deaths blamed on carbon monoxide in several years.

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