I Am Not Blowing Smoke Up Your… Smoke Detectors!

Every once in awhile I will go into an older home and notice the lack of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. It is a little frightening to see the absence of this minor fire prevention device that can save you and your family. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has statistic from 2009 thru 2013 which found that 3 out of every 5 home fire deaths occurred in homes without smoke detectors and 1 out of every 5 homes that had a nonfunctioning detector and almost half of those were due to disconnected batteries or dead batteries. When you hear that annoying chirping sound don’t just disconnect the wires and batteries! Replace the battery it could end up saving your life. The actual death rate per 100 is doubled for those in homes without detectors. The average death rate because of this comes in around 940/year and 510/year for homes with non-functioning devices. Some people discover their smoke detector is too close to the kitchen and will go off every time they cook. This doesn’t mean you should just disconnect it! You can relocate it or get a different type of smoke detector such as a photoelectric alarm or one with a hush button.

What do these devices actually do? There are two types of detectors; ionization and photoelectric detectors. The ionization detector has a pair of plates inside that have a constant current acting within them. When smoke infiltrates the plates it disrupts the current causing the alarm to sound. The photoelectric detector has a beam of light and when that gets interrupted it disperses the light and this activates the alarm. The photoelectric type is not as sensitive as the ionization type and is designed to go off during slow smokier, smoldering types of fires. The International Residential Code requires ionization smoke detectors to be a minimum of twenty feet from a cooking appliance and only six feet for photoelectric detectors.

Construction Codes that cover the requirements of such detectors can be found in NFPA72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code which require all new single-family homes to have a smoke detector in each bedroom, outside of each sleeping area and on every level of the home. The most effective system will have all the devices interconnected so that when one sounds they all sound. This can be accomplished with battery operated wireless devices as well as hardwired devices. The code has changed in recent years allowing for technology to play its role, however, the primary source of power for these devices must come from the house wiring. In addition, you can combine smoke and carbon monoxide detectors into one combo unit as long as they are an approved device as per Underwriters Laboratories requirements UL 268 and UL 2075. The Uniform Fire Code (UFC) requires all homes that contain a fuel-fired appliance or have an attached garage, have a carbon monoxide alarm in the vicinity of the bedrooms and all rooms adjacent to such appliances.

Final notes: The United States Fire Administration (USFA) recommends for homeowners to test their detectors once a month and change your batteries once a year. In addition, once your unit is ten years old it is time to replace it. Keep your loved ones safe! I am not blowing smoke up your ***.