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Updated South Carolina Building and Fire Codes Include Carbon Monoxide Alarm Requirements Aimed at Protecting Against the “Silent Killer”

In the past several months, the tragic deaths of an elderly couple and a child in two separate incidents in the same North Carolina hotel room have garnered national media attention. According to North Carolina authorities, the deaths of these individuals are attributable to a carbon monoxide (“CO”) leak originating from a pool heater located in an adjacent room.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately 500 people die each year from accidental, non-fire related CO poisoning. Many more are sickened from accidental CO exposure, with the National Fire Protection Agency estimating that more than 80,000 non-fire related CO incidents occurred in 2010 alone, and the number is increasing.

CO is a poisonous gas that results from the incomplete burning of fuel, such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil and wood. CO enters the bloodstream when inhaled and reduces the ability of blood to transport oxygen to vital organs. Because CO is odorless and colorless, it is often referred to as the “silent killer.” In addition, many people ignore the symptoms of CO poisoning, which include headache, nausea, dizziness and confusion.

New Codes Require Installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms

New versions of the building and fire codes aimed at protecting against dangerous CO poisoning recently went into effect in South Carolina. Effective July 1, 2013, South Carolina has adopted the 2012 versions of the International Building Code, International Residential Code, and International Fire Code. These codes require the installation of CO alarms in certain new and existing buildings and are aimed at the most likely sources of CO—cooking and heating appliances and car exhaust.

Among those structures impacted by the new codes are buildings meeting the definition of “Group I” and “Group R” occupancies, such as hotels, boarding house, dormitories, apartment buildings and hospitals. Section 908.7 of the 2012 International Building Code and §1103.9 of the 2012 International Fire Code make new and existing “Group I” and “Group R” and  occupancies containing a fuel-burning appliance or an attached garage subject to the CO alarm mandate. However, certain types of parking garages are not considered by the code to be an attached garage, so be sure to consult the code to determine if your facility’s parking garage triggers the CO detection requirement.In addition, an exception exists for sleeping or dwelling units which do not themselves contain a fuel-burning appliance or have an attached garage. CO detectors are not required in such units provided:

  • (1) the unit is located more than one story above or below any story that contains a fuel-burning appliance or attached garage;
  • (2) the unit is not connected by duct work or ventilation shafts to any room containing a fuel-burning appliance or attached garage; and
  • (3) the building is equipped with a common area CO alarm system.

For more information on whether your facility is required to install CO alarms, contact your local building official.

For the complete text of the International Codes and South Carolina modifications, visit the South Carolina Building Codes Council website.

For more information on CO poisoning, visit the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control website.

Guest blog written by Amy Neuschafer

Amy Neuschafer is an associate practicing in appellate advocacy, retail/hospitality/entertainment defense and premises liability. Amy was most recently honored as a South Carolina Super Lawyers Rising Star® 2013.


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