I recently learned several new facts about smoke alarms that could literally save your life. Just as technology has rapidly changed virtually everything we use for the better, smoke alarms too have changed recently.
There have been instances around the country where people have lost their lives in house fires and had functioning smoke alarms. Unfortunately, the vast majority of residential smoke alarms are ionization alarms which take a long time to respond to smoldering fires, often too late. Now there is a better technology available that doesn’t have these issues. It’s called a photoelectric alarm and typically responds to smoldering fires on average 30 minutes faster than ionization types. They are available everywhere you can buy smoke alarms and are about the same price as any other smoke alarm. I urge every homeowner to make the change; it could save you and your families lives.
Photoelectric alarms are currently required in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont. It is to be expected that they will eventually be required in every state. In fact, the World Fire Safety Foundation calls ionization smoke alarms “deadly” and The International Association of Fire Fighters advocates the use of photoelectric smoke alarms.
As a general rule, smoke alarms should be replaced every ten years. Usually, there is a date stamped on the back. If not, then replace it. Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing. It is not difficult to do but does require a little wiring (just basic connections) provided your home was built within the last twenty years and has interconnected alarms with battery backups as mandated by code. This just simply means that all of the alarms in the house are hardwired together with over current protection via a circuit breaker in the main panel. If one goes off they will all go off. Simply hold the test button down on one and see if they all sound together for a quick an easy test to see if your home has interconnected alarms. If not, don’t worry there is another option; battery powered wireless smoke alarms. These alarms bridge the gap because they communicate with each other just as hardwired interconnected alarms do. This is important because if a fire were to break out on the first level you would want the upstairs to know as soon as possible as opposed to waiting until the smoke was dense enough to activate an upstairs alarm.
Per code, smoke alarms are required in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. While this only pertains to homes built within the last twenty years, it is highly advisable to upgrade to meet the code regardless of the age of the home. At a minimum a home is required to have one on every level.
I need to give credit to Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections who is a very experienced home inspector in Minnesota for providing the majority of the information above.