When It's Time to Change Your Smoke Alarm Batteries

Nov 27, 2018 4:15:00 PM

No doubt about it: smoke alarms save lives. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, three of every five home fire deaths resulted from a lack of smoke alarms (38%) or no working smoke alarm (21%). These devices can mean all the difference in giving you and your family time to get out of the house if there is a fire. 

If you're saying, "We've got detectors already", you still need to read on.  A lot has changed with both the technology and the state regulations regarding detectors since you may have purchased your home or installed detectors.

Installing Smoke Alarm

Time to Change Batteries

Traditionally, the end of Daylight Saving Time (November 4th this year) has served as a reminder to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. However, changes to fire codes means that these battery-operated devices may not be up to code in Massachusetts, depending on when your house was built or had a major renovation or home addition. 

There are three questions you need to consider.

  1. Do you have enough detectors to meet code? Each floor - including the basement and the attic, even if unfinished- requires an detector. This includes an alarm within 20 feet of sleeping areas and an alarm inside every bedroom. Also, an alarm should be installed at the bottom of every staircase in the house.  Consider installing a heat alarm rather than a smoke detector in attics and garages; this type of alarm senses temperature rather than smoke.
  1. Are your alarms connected? As of 2007, interconnected alarms are a code requirement for homes old and new. When one alarm goes off, all alarms should sound.  Newer homes will have hardwired systems.  But older homes can be retrofitted with wireless battery-powered units linked via Wi-Fi or radio frequency. If you upgrade your home's alarms, do the whole house at the same time.  Not all models are compatible, even if they are the same brand.
  1. Are the batteries fresh? Even hardwired systems need battery back-up in the event of a power outage.  Many newer smoke alarms are sold with 10-year sealed batteries.  This is considered the life of a smoke alarm and the whole unit should be replaced every 10 years regardless. Inspect your current units. They should have a date of manufacture. Toss any units that you find older than that or that don't have a date on them.  And whether they are sealed or not, still do a monthly check of all your alarms.

The National Fire Protection Association (nfa.orgoffers a free download tip sheet on the proper use and maintenance of smoke alarms.

Sources: NFPA and This Old House

Compliance Inspection for Home Sellers

If you are selling a home in Massachusetts, you need a certificate of compliance from your local fire department showing that your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms meet the requirements for a sale or transfer.  These requirements are quite stringent, extensive and complicated. Putting up inexpensive, battery powered alarms is not going to pass today's requirements.  Your best bet is to download the free sellers requirements guide from the mass.gov website.

To get your certificate of compliance you will need to schedule an inspection with your fire department before the sales closes. There will be a charge for this. Follow these steps so that you will be well prepared and not need to have them come out multiple times, at additional costs. 

  1. Find out when your home was built and the date(s) of any recent building permits issued for renovations from your town building department.
  1. Based on these dates, refer to the guide mentioned above to figure out your requirements for smoke alarms and CO detectors.
  1. List the locations of all smoke alarms and CO detectors in your home. Determine the date of manufacture for each alarm. If it is older than 10 years, you must replace the unit.  If you can't find a date on the unit, replace it because it will no doubt be expired.
  1. Compare your list of existing alarms with the requirements booklets to determine which alarms must be replaced or if you need to install more units than you currently have. Be prepared: You may need to replace ALL the alarms with newer technology especially if they are not interconnected. This is not inexpensive.
  1. If your alarms don't meet requirements, you will need to purchase new alarms that do meet code.  You may need to hire an electrician to replace hardwired units. 
  1. Battery-powered smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old, or have expired, must be replaced with alarms featuring 10-year sealed, non-rechargeable, non-replaceable batteries. These must be photoelectric models and have a "hush feature" to shut off nuisance alarms.
  1. Once your new alarms are installed, test them to be sure they are working.  And that when one sounds, they all do. 

If you have questions about the requirements for your home and the cost of the inspection and compliance certificate, call your local fire department.

Source for article: mass.gov website

NOTE: Some towns have an annual program where they check out the homes of senior citizens for working smoke and CO detectors. Some programs offer to do the replacements at minimal cost. Check with your fire department on behalf of a parent, grandparent or elderly neighbor if you are concerned about their safety in the event of fire.

When it comes to insuring your family's home, vehicles, possessions and lifestyle, we take our responsibility to keep you properly protected very seriously.  The trust you placed in us when you chose the Keefe Insurance Agency means you count on us to keep you informed of things you can do to avoid potential claims.

We are always available during business hours to answer your questions or address your concerns. Stop by or call us at 508-528-3310 or toll-free at 888-528-3310. There is also additional information available 24/7 on our web site for your convenience.  

Bonus! Did You Know? 

How do I know if my smoke alarm is more than 10 years old or expired?

The date of manufacture is located on the back of the unit. Carefully remove the alarm from its mounting bracket to check the date. If you can't find a date, assume that the unit is more than 10 years old and replace it. 

Remember: Even if your house was built after 2007 and has hardwired alarms, you still must replace the units every 10 years because the sealed battery backup will be expired. 

How do I know which kind of smoke alarm I have?

A new alarm should be marked on the outside of the package to indicate if it uses ionization or photoelectric technology. Older units typically use the ionization detection method. 

What's the difference?

 A photoelectric unit uses light to detect smoke.  It is preferred because it is better at detecting smoldering fires. These fires account for the greatest loss of life. Household fire warning systems, such as from ADT, only use photoelectric units.

Ionization smoke detectors use radiation to detect smoke.  These units are more effective in detecting flaming fires.  However, these units are more prone to nuisance false alarms caused by steam or cooking smoke. However, these units are ideal for placing in your garage.

Can I use the combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and meet code?

Yes, you can. If your house is heated with fossil fuels you are required by MA state law to have CO detectors. Homes with heating systems or appliances that burn gas, oil, or wood based products are required to have CO detectors on every level of the house. However, if you use the combo units, these must have BOTH an alarm tone and simulated voice alarm to distinguish the type of emergency.

lf my house was built after 2011, do I also need heat alarms?

Yes. Newer construction requires smoke detectors, CO monitors and heat alarms.  These should have been installed during construction. The heat alarms must be installed in any attached garage or a garage under the house. They must be hardwired and interconnected with or without battery backup to the existing smoke detection system. Heat alarms are also a better choice for attic spaces too, although not required.

Can I use the new wireless technology in my older house?

Yes. In homes built before 1975, alarms can be wirelessly interconnected and have a replaceable battery as long as the battery lasts for at least one year.  In homes built or modified after 1975, units may be wirelessly interconnected, but they cannot be wirelessly powered. They must be hardwired.

What if we subscribe to a household fire warning system?

The requirements may be different than those listed here. Contact your local fire department. 

Peter Brunelli

Written by Peter Brunelli

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