Should States Mandate CO Detectors in Private Homes?



 Texas residents were subjected to one of the worst power outages in state history this past winter, when an unusually severe cold snap stressed the system to its breaking point. In the aftermath, some 1,400 people were sickened by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning while trying to keep warm; eleven people died. Now state lawmakers are wondering if they should require CO detectors in private homes.


Six states, Texas included, leave CO mandates up to local cities and towns. Officials in these states are well known to favor individual responsibility over government mandate. The remaining forty-four states have proved to prefer just the opposite. Now the debate rages as to which model is better.


Trying to Stay Warm


It is unfortunate that people don't know what to do when the power goes out. What happened in Texas in February 2021 is not out of the ordinary. People without adequate knowledge do all sorts of things to try to stay warm when their furnaces aren't working. Some of what they do is dangerous.


They run their cars in the garage without proper ventilation. They bring gas and charcoal grills indoors. They run kerosene heaters designed exclusively for outdoor use. They bring gasoline-powered generators inside to keep the lights on and electric heaters going.


One way to prevent such activities from leading to tragedy is to force people to install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes. Still, a carbon monoxide detector doesn't prevent someone from making a dumb decision. A person intent on staying warm could just as easily take the batteries out of their CO detector so that they can run the gas grill without the annoyance of an alarm.


This is not to say that CO detectors are a bad idea. They are actually a very good idea. So much so that Vivint Smart Home lists them among the top five items to include in a home security system. They say that both smoke and CO detectors are non-negotiable security devices.


Education Is Another Option


If states are unwilling to mandate CO detectors in private homes, there is another option: education. People know that walking into traffic is potentially deadly. So they don't do it. If they knew how deadly carbon monoxide is, they would avoid it like the plague. The problem is that people just don't know.


Our schools have long since stopped teaching things that matter. By contrast, this writer knows the deadly nature of carbon monoxide, not because of a newspaper story or a blog post, but because it was learned in seventh grade science class. Bringing a gas grill into the home has never been a temptation.


These days, our attempts at education are limited to putting labels on things. A bag of charcoal has a warning against using a grill indoors. Warning labels are also found on gas grills, kerosene heaters, etc. But no one reads them. People do stupid things because they don't know the consequences, not because they don't have CO detectors in their homes.


Government Mandates Never End


It is fine that the majority of states require carbon monoxide detectors in private homes. If that's what the voters want, that's what they want. But know this: government mandates never end. Every time there is some sort of event tragic enough to make the news, government officials shift into regulatory first gear. They come up with a new rule to 'prevent this from ever happening again'.


No amount of regulation is going to make life perfectly risk-free. Even with mandates in place, things go wrong. That much will never change.


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