We cover many topics affecting Toronto loft owners on this blog but this may be one of the most important articles we’ve ever written. Each year, carbon monoxide poisoning claims more than 50 lives in Canada and injures hundreds more. Yet it’s not only preventable, it’s relatively affordable and easy to take those preventative measures.
Last October, after a six-year effort led by veteran firefighter John Gignac who lost four family members to preventable carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, it became law for every home in Ontario to have a CO alarm. Specifically, all Ontario residences with a fuel-burning appliance or fireplace as well as homes and condos attached to or nearby a garage (where occupants can unknowingly be exposed to exhaust fumes).
There’s a tendency for those who live in Toronto lofts to assume that units will automatically be equipped with all of the latest safety devices required by law, including fire, smoke and CO alarms. But this is not always the case. If you live in a loft or condo, rent out your loft or are a buyer looking at lofts for sale in Toronto, then you need to know about the new CO alarm law and how to keep you and your family safe.
CO alarm requirements are now part of Ontario law. Gignac, Executive Director of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation, a non-profit educational organization to raise awareness of the dangers of CO, helped lead the charge to make this critical change to the Ontario Fire Code.
Changes to the Ontario Fire Code were effective as of last October however a grace period was granted until April 15, 2015 to allow homeowners and landlords a chance to get their properties outfitted with alarms. This first deadline includes boutique condo and loft buildings with six or fewer suites. For lofts and apartment buildings with more than six suites, the deadline is October 15, 2015.
· Any home with an attached garage or multi-unit loft/condo/apartment unit that shares a common wall or floor/ceiling with a garage,
· Any home or loft/condo/apartment unit with a fuel-burning device (e.g. gas, propane, oil or wood) including but not limited to stoves, furnaces, water heaters and fireplaces, and/or
· Any home or loft/condo/apartment unit that shares a common wall, floor or ceiling with a service room containing a fuel-burning appliance.
No matter the age of your home, if you live in Ontario and fall under one of the above categories, you must have a CO alarm installed and it must be in functioning order. If you already have one, make sure that it follows the installation and replacement guidelines and see our maintenance tips below. If you’re in doubt and want advice, speak with your local fire department.
The loft owner is responsible for the installation and maintenance of CO alarms within their unit unless it’s explicitly written into your loft agreement that it’s the responsibility of the condo corporation.
If you’re a landlord renting out your Toronto loft, it is your responsibility, not the tenant’s, to ensure that the loft is properly outfitted with fire, smoke and CO alarm(s) and to maintain and replace them by the manufacturer’s expiry date. You should also advise the tenant upon move-in to leave the suite immediately if the alarm ever sounds, as identified in the building fire safety plan.
The tenant is responsible for notifying the landlord as soon as they become aware that a CO alarm in their unit is disconnected or not operating properly. Also, the tenant may not disable their CO alarms.
The one grey area is monthly testing. Most landlords instruct their tenants to test the alarm monthly and report any malfunctions immediately. That said, the law may not be on your side if there ever were to be any deaths or injuries caused by carbon monoxide poisoning due to a non-functioning alarm. As such, we recommend that you personally test and maintain the alarm.
The Office of the Fire Marshal reminds us that the landlord has ultimate responsibility and advises that landlords test CO alarms annually and after every change of tenancy, after batteries are replaced in battery-operated models and after any change is made to the electrical circuit for hardwired CO alarms.
The Ontario Building Code was amended in 2001 and that impacts how your CO alarm needs to be installed. If your loft was built after August 6, 2001, then the alarm system needs to be hardwired and interconnected (if one alarm goes off, all trigger simultaneously). CO alarms for buildings built before August 6, 2001 can be battery-operated or plugin types.
All CO alarms in Canada must meet the CSA 6.19 or UL 2034 standards and so you can pick up compliant units at most hardware stores. That said, we encourage you to consider a professionally-installed, hardwired, interconnected system particularly for large or multi-level units. Another option is to get a full-service home monitoring system including fire, smoke and CO alarms along with burglar alarms for safety and peace-of-mind.
Most Toronto lofts require only one CO alarm but it’s advisable to have an additional alarm(s) on each floor for multi-level dwellings. Many times, alarms are installed by the front door or near the kitchen in condos but in fact, they should be positioned near the bedroom(s).
Mechanical/service rooms equipped with a fuel-burning appliance require a CO alarm. Although not required by law, it’s recommended that common areas that have a fuel-burning appliance (e.g. a lounge with a fireplace) are also be equipped with a CO alarm for added protection.
Ask your board to review the recent updates to the Ontario Fire Code as it pertains to CO alarms and to report back on whether or not your building is in compliance. If it’s not, action must be taken by April 15 or October 15, 2015 depending on the size of your building.
If you don’t have a CO alarm installed and your condo unit requires one by law, know that failure to comply with Fire Code could result in a fine of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year for individuals or $100,000 fine for corporations. Efforts are also underway to establish a number of CO alarm violations as ticketable offences with fines in the order of $295.
More importantly, the lack of CO detection puts you and any other occupants at risk and so we advise taking action immediately to ensure that your loft is compliant.
John Gignac has made great strides in CO safety with the recent changes to the Ontario Fire Act but his greatest challenge lies in raising awareness of the seriousness of this issue.
"I am comforted that the new law will help prevent the kind of tragedy that our family faced," Gignac says. "I encourage all Ontarians to know their responsibilities under the law and purchase at least one carbon monoxide alarm today–don't delay. It's the only way to keep yourself and your family safe from the potentially fatal danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't let what happened to my family, happen to yours."
The information in this article is intended to raise awareness of the new CO law and provide some general guidelines on how to create a safe living environment. However, when in doubt, seek the advice of your local fire department. If the work requires more than just the simple installation of a plug-in or battery-powered alarm, always work with a licensed technician to install your new alarm system.
For more information, the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation is a great resource. You can read more at endthesilence.ca. The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety also has further information. If you have any questions or doubts on what to do, in particular if you are a condo board member organizing a building-wide compliance project, it’s always best to seek professional advice upfront.
Special thanks to the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation and the Office of the Fire Marshal for their assistance with this article and for helping to keep our Toronto loft community safe.
John Gignac, Founder and Executive Director of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education, was a firefighter for 34 years. He is the uncle of Laurie Hawkins who tragically died along with her husband, Richard, and their two children, Cassandra and Jordan, from carbon monoxide poisoning when a blocked chimney vent from their gas fireplace forced the deadly gas back into their home. John has vowed to make it his life's mission to do everything he can to prevent any further unnecessary deaths due to CO poisoning by educating Canadians about the dangers of carbon monoxide and advocating for mandatory carbon monoxide alarms.
Close-up of CO alarm and carbon monoxide sources in your home illustration, © Hawkins-Gignac Foundation.