El Dorado Hills - Homes & News - DeeDee Riley Realtor: Really? You Should Replace Smoke Detectors?

Really? You Should Replace Smoke Detectors?

That was a question I got on a home inspection the other day.

So I ask you - do smoke detectors need to be replaced and if so, how often?

This is a 27 year old house.

Coming upon this smoke detector in the basement, I explained that it still has electricity, but the "traveler" cable, the one which interconnects all the detectors together so they operate as a team, was broken.

And I said, "It doesn't matter, the smoke detectors all have to be replaced anyway."

That prompted my client to ask, "Really?  You should replace smoke detectors?"

I said, "YES!" 

But how often?

Well, certainly when they don't work properly.  But there is a replacement rule of thumb too.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says every 10 years.

From NFPA 72 -  "10.4.7 - Replacement of Smoke Alarms in One- and Two-Family Dwellings. Unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer's published instructions, single- and multiple-stations smoke alarms installed in one- and two-family dwellings shall be replaced when they fail to respond to operability tests, but shall not remain in service longer than 10 years from the date of manufacture."

There are two of the most common types of smoke detectors:

1.  Optical detection - photoelectric
2.  Physical process - ionizing

Photoelectric detectors are generally used for large rooms.  They combine a light source and a sensor.  As smoke passes between the two and interrupts the beam, it goes off.  The NFPA says, "photoelectric smoke detection is generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering (called smoldering fires)."  These are considered to provide adequate protection for smoldering fires, but not so much for flaming fires. 

And, over time, the lens gets dusty and, like having cataracts, is less and less likely to "see" smoke.

The ionizing type of smoke detector is generally cheaper to manufacture, but is more prone to false alarms.  They are very sensitive, capable of detecting smoke that is not visible to the eye.  These have a radioactive element which passes a constant current through an ionization chamber between two electrodes.  Any particle that enters the chamber, like smoke, interrupts that current and sets off the alarm.

The NFPA says, "Smoke alarms become less reliable with time, primarily due to aging of their electronic components, making them susceptible to nuisance false alarms."  Hence the recommendation to replace every 10 years.

Modern smoke detection systems installed in houses are placed in every bedroom and on every level.  They are hard-wired, but have battery back ups (the batteries get weak and chirp).  Also, they are interconnected and work as a team, so if one goes off, they all should.

I tease my clients explaining that the "code" requires that the batteries get weak and sound off only between 1 and 4am.  Anyone want to dispute that?

My recommendation:  check your smoke detectors regularly by pushing the test button.  But if they are 10 years old or older, it would be circumspect to replace them.  You don't want to be the next news story:  "Fire officials determined that there were smoke detectors in the dwelling, but they were not operating correctly." 

You've heard that one, right?

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 34 commentsJay Markanich • March 14 2011 06:28AM

Comments

I replace them when my service people test them during make-ready preparations between residents and my HVAC firm services them and replaces batteries in the fall and spring * good suggestion to replace them!

Posted by Wallace S. Gibson, CPM, LandlordWhisperer (Gibson Management Group, Ltd.) over 7 years ago

Good to know, and thx for the reminder.  I need to get a new battery on mine as it chirped yesterday.  That's on the list for today along w/ coffee filters.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 7 years ago

Wallace - replacing batteries twice a year is something most people do not do!  Like, probably 99.9%?!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Happy to remind Debbie!   Mine would be 13 years old had I not replaced them.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good morning, Jay. Well, you really don't have to, you know. If you like to assume permanent room temps, like dirt kicked in your face or like to see what daisy's roots look like, leave them as they are. Not to worry, your wish is the Reaper's command...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Heavy suggestion Michael!  Kind of profound and deep...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good morning Jay;  A good idea, but how many folks will replace a unit that seems to work well, especially when you burn dinner and the alarm sounds?

Posted by Kenneth Cole, NYS Licensed Real Estate Salesperson (Weichert Realtors Appleseed Group, 2043 Richmond Ave. S.I.N.Y. 10314. office phone 718-698-9797, Appleseedhomes.com -) over 7 years ago

That kind of false alarm would indicate it's time to change the detectors Ken.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Thanks for the reminder Jay. We have been in our home for 8 years now and these detectors were here so I guess it's time to replace.

Posted by Bob "RealMan" Timm, Bob Timm, Project Coordinator for Tivoli Homes (Tivoli Custom Homes) over 7 years ago

Mayhap Bob!  Do any go off without reason?  Or in the middle of the night?  If so, 'tis time.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Hoping this gets Featured to raise the level of awareness -- I know, we're in the biz and should already know this, but it needs to be shared and shared and shared . . .

Posted by Tish Lloyd, Broker - Wilmington NC and Surrounding Beaches (BlueCoast Realty Corporation) over 7 years ago

And all this time, I thought I was a lousy cook! It's the alarm's fault!

Posted by Renée Montgomery, Northern Virginia Real Estate (Century 21 New Millennium) over 7 years ago

good advice. here the local fire departments campaign every Valentines Day to replace smoke alarm batteries and test the units.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago

Thank you Tish.  It is good information.

Renee - right!  It's the detector!

They do the same here Robert, but that is only one thing to remember!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Great advice.  I had just heard this about 2 weeks ago - so you are a confirmation.   :) 

Thank you!

Posted by Joy Daniels (Joy Daniels Real Estate Group, Ltd.) over 7 years ago

You're welcome Joy!  And glad to confirm. 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay, I didn't realize this, and will now put it on my to do list to replace my (2) hardwired detectors ASAP.

Besides, they're a lovely cream/yellow now that they have aged 20 years!  Yipes, double the recommendation!

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, Founder, Wrenn Home Improvements over 7 years ago

How many times have you gone into a house and the smoke detectors are chirping. What?, no one noticed.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay that is good to know as I had no idea.  Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Damon Gettier, Broker/Owner ABRM, GRI, CDPE (Damon Gettier & Associates, REALTORS- Roanoke Va Short Sale Expert) over 7 years ago

Great blog, Jay.  I always mention replacing old smoke detectors in my reports when the detectors look old, or the house is a little over ten years old.

Also, you're totally right about the time that smoke detectors chirp.  In my last house, I installed hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms throughout my house.  About a year later, one of 'em would chirp in the middle of the night.  I'd get up, go downstairs, and stand underneath the one in the hallway and look at the other two in the nearby bedrooms, and nothing would happen.  I'd go to bed, and this would all happen again a week later.  I got tired of that game and just replaced all the batteries.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

For folks who still have battery operated detectors...this was the weekend to replace them....we do have "tests" now and then....painful to the ears but worth the test !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

For folks who still have battery operated detectors...this was the weekend to replace them....we do have "tests" now and then....painful to the ears but worth the test !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

For folks who still have battery operated detectors...this was the weekend to replace them....we do have "tests" now and then....painful to the ears but worth the test !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

Jay,

Great information on these devices. Like you said they get overlooked and not thought of very often. We all love their happy little chirp ;)

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay, the smoke detector in the picture looks pretty beyond it's prime!  Even I would replace tht one.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I had to share your post with one of my uncles. 

The snicker and "these gadgets are for lazy people" statement floored me.

Just so happens on the same day I received the email from the NFPA that approximately 1/3 of fires occur in homes without smoke detectors.

Big culture difference amongst generations.  By The Way watch out for the slap in the head when you talk to my uncle.  Since he's family and an elder, I just have to accept the old smack in the head.   None of these "gadgets" in his house.  Then again he maintains his house on a daily basis.   Gotta love the "yous guys" in Jersey.  Does anyone else add an "s" to you for the plurarl?

 

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) over 7 years ago

Jeremy - that lovely faded color is sure an indication to change!  Good idea...

Jim - I know!  When I get to a home inspection and one is chirping, I take it apart!  It's something I can't stand.

Great Damon!  Glad to share.  No you know something new that will stick with you.

Reuben - I am pretty sure it's code.  And if anything sets one off, like pushing the test button, it makes a couple of them mad and they start chirping too.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

S&D - battery-operated detectors work, but the disadvantage is that they are not interconnected.  I hope you have more than one!

Don'tcha love that chirp now?!  Well, Donald, obviously it is something overlooked!

Pat - yes, it's 27 years old!  I took that picture because it was hanging down and obviously past its prime.

Jim - is your uncle going to call me?  When will I speak with him?  In VA I don't hear people use the extra "s" in conversation, just a lot of improper pronunciation!

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good post.. I tell people even if it's working after 10 years, it's best to follow NFPA's recommendation and be on the safe side.  This is one device you don't want to find out the hard way that it isn't working!

Posted by David Artigliere, ARTI Home Inspections, ASHI Certified Home Inspect (Reading, Pottstown, Norristown, Philadelphia) over 7 years ago

David - and be the next news story!  We hear too many of them anyway...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Thanks for the great information Jay.  this confirms what I learned on a course recently.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 7 years ago

Thanks Chris, glad to hear it buttressed your class!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

More great information we all need to know and pay attention to Jay!!!  Thanks so much for sharing.

Posted by DeeDee Riley, Realtor - El Dorado Hills & the Surrounding Areas (Lyon Real Estate - El Dorado Hills CA) over 7 years ago

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential DeeDee.  They need to be maintained!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

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