Skip directly to content

Law Requires CO Detectors In Hotels In North Carolina

In August 2013, a new North Carolina state law mandated that hotels and other lodging establishments install the detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel burning heater, appliance or fireplace and in every room that shares a wall, floor or ceiling with such spaces.

The legislature acted after the deaths of three people from carbon monoxide poisoning at the Best Western in Boone. The law took effect on October 1, 2013. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless — making it virtually impossible for people to detect without a carbon monoxide detector. Until the new law was passed, carbon monoxide detectors had not been required in any of North Carolina’s lodging establishments.

Despite new law, hotels were slow to install CO detectors. Few hotels in the Charlotte area appear to be complying with a new state law requiring installation of carbon monoxide detectors. As of Dec. 4, 2013 the Mecklenburg County Health Department found that 21 of the 31 buildings it inspected had failed to install alarms or detectors or had faulty or malfunctioning ones. County officials issued warnings giving the businesses 30 days to put in CO alarms or detectors.

“I was surprised,” Bill Hardister, environmental health director said. He added that he really expected there would be a better attempt to comply with the law.”

Complying with the law isn’t difficult or costly: battery-operated or electric alarms cost less than $75. By October 1st, 2014 all lodging establishments are required to have system CO detectors installed.

In some North Carolina counties implementation of the law is going even slower. In Union and Iredell counties county officials said they haven’t performed checks because they are still training inspectors and figuring out enforcement.

The environmental health supervisor for Catawba County, Scott Carpenter, said some health departments are unhappy they were assigned the inspections. They are not sure what exactly they have to be doing and they believe fire officials have more experience with detectors.

The spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Ricky Diaz, said “a question and answer document” is being created by the state administrators to help departments enforce the law.

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association said it has been in “constant communication” with members about the new law and believes “most of them are in compliance.”

In Boone, the Appalachian District Health Department said inspectors are enforcing the new law during routine inspections. The statement said that whenever they are investigating any other 

complaint in any lodging establishment they are also checking for carbon monoxide alarms or detectors.

The families of an 11-year-old boy and an elderly couple this past summer in Watauga County who died in the same hotel room last year had hoped the new law would be broader. Patsye Watts, who was traveling with Daryl and Shirley Jenkins before they died, believes that, “Regardless of how close they are to gas-emitting appliances, a law should be passed that all states are required to have carbon monoxide detectors in all their hotel rooms.”

Dr. Lindell Weaver of the University of Utah, School of Medicine estimated that between 1989 and the year 2004, 772 people suffered carbon monoxide poisoning at motels, hotels, and resorts. 27 of those people died.

Every person’s immune system expresses itself differently. “Heaven knows how many other people were exposed in Boone and didn’t die.” Dr. Weaver is concerned that the effects of Carbon Monoxide exposure may not show up for weeks, even months and then worsen dramatically. The long term consequences of Carbon Monoxide poisoning could last a lifetime.

More than 1,000 people poisoned by carbon monoxide were evaluated by Dr. Weaver. He says he always takes his own alarm or detector to hotels. He believes that everyone should do the same.

At lower levels of exposure, the poisonous gas causes effects that are often mistaken for the flu and Carbon Monoxide can kill you before you become aware of it. Other symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The response of the body depends on the person’s age, overall health, the concentration and length of exposure. The effects of carbon monoxide exposure can vary greatly from person to person.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters and leaking chimneys and furnaces including back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces. Carbon Monoxide can be produced by gas stoves, generators, gas dryers and other gasoline powered equipment. Automobile exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also bring Carbon Monoxide.