Lawmaker drafting legislation to address placement of whole home generators

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 10:37 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A state representative wants to pass a new law to keep people safe from carbon monoxide, after our reports exposed how alarming levels of the odorless, colorless gas, got into people’s homes following Hurricane Ida.

From the Southshore to the Northshore, people across the region reached out to us to detail their terrifying experiences with carbon monoxide getting into their homes from their whole house generators after Hurricane Ida.

Jefferson Parish resident Sean Hebert said, “They came out and immediately sensed high carbon monoxide levels in the house.”

Lynn Moore added, “My entire immediate family almost died from something we didn’t even know could happen.”

All of the stories sounded similar.

“The fireman came in through this way, he immediately got a reading on his meter, like right here,” Paul Leblanc explained.

Our reports and what officials call an alarming number of people this happened to, prompted State Representative Stephanie Hilferty, of Metairie, to act.

“I don’t want to see a family die,” Hilferty said.

She said she can sympathize with the families we’ve spoken to because it also happened to her.

“In the middle of the night, it was a couple of days into Ida so the generator had been running for a while, it went off in the middle of the night with a high, beep, beep, beep,” Hilferty explained.

She and her family figured out where the carbon monoxide was getting into the house and sealed the area off. She knows they were lucky. Wanting to prevent this from ever happening to anyone again, she’s in the process of writing up legislation to address where whole house generators should be installed.

“What we’re looking at is a statewide minimum standard so placement near windows, placement near open crawl spaces, making sure it is not placed anywhere near those two things where you could have the exhaust come into the home,” Hilferty stated.

Right now, installers rely on instruction manuals from the generator manufacturers to determine the safest place to put a unit. In some parishes, but not all, permits are required for generator placement meaning the parish would also have to determine where the generator goes. But there’s no universal state law detailing how far generators need to be from a home or a neighboring house.

Louisiana State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said, “Many jurisdictions have no restriction on generators.”

Browning believes a new state law is desperately needed especially considering the hundreds of calls that local fire departments received in the days after Ida.

“I definitely think we dodged a bullet when it relates to deaths but make no mistake about it there were people that got sick, that were hospitalized,” Browning explained.

All of the people we spoke to, including Hilferty, said they thought licensed contractors properly installed their units.

“We thought we were doing everything right,” Lynn Moore stated.

In St. Tammany Parish, homeowners are now encouraged to place new whole house generators at least five feet from their homes and at least 15 feet from a neighboring house because of this problem. But both Hilferty and Chief Browning know that type of distance wouldn’t work everywhere.

“I represent Lakeview, Metairie, the houses are very are close and it may not be feasible for those families to have a generator,” Hilferty explained.

In addition to addressing where units are installed, Hilferty says there’s another critical component, carbon monoxide detectors. Right now, only homes built after 2009 are required to have them.

Hilferty explained, “The issue is that when homes are sold, we’d like to see that that be a part of the sale process, that that house has a carbon monoxide detector installed. Or when an apartment is re-leased that a carbon monoxide detector is installed in that building if that apartment has gas service.”

Browning said, “We save hundreds of people’s lives in Louisiana with working smoke alarms so I believe this is the right vehicle to possibly get us to the level of protection of carbon monoxide.”

Hilferty is still working out the details of this potential legislation, like exactly what distance is a safe distance for a generator to be installed from a home. She thinks local jurisdictions would be responsible for enforcing the law. Chief Browning explained, if local parishes chose to, they can pass their own ordinances to require even more regulations.

“State law would be the minimum, so whatever the state would be to say that would be the law of the land, the local jurisdictions can require more but they can’t require less,” Browning said.

He hopes Hilferty will be successful with this new law, saying, “Good things come out of bad things and certainly this storm and the recovery of this storm was just horrendous on people and the people who experienced problems with generators, we’ve got to seize that and we’ve got to educate and we’ve got to make some change.”

Hilferty believes the change has got to come.

“I don’t want to see somebody dying in their sleep when the generator could’ve been placed differently or the carbon monoxide detector could’ve-a $20 piece of technology could have saved their lives,” Hilferty said.

Hilferty plans to introduce this proposed legislation when lawmakers convene their next session in the Spring.

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