This is the second in a series of posts on residential fire and fire prevention. The series will focus on those actions that homeowners can take to protect their homes and families. It will cover those areas of the house that require regular inspection and maintenance. It is hoped that these posts will inspire homeowners to take preventive actions and to further educate themselves about home safety.
In the 1970s, only one smoke detector was required per home. Today, the Uniform Building Code and the National Fire Prevention Association’s National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72) require that there should be a smoke detector on every level of the house, including the basement and finished attic space. The UBC and NFPA also require a smoke detector inside every bedroom and anywhere else in the home where someone sleeps. There should be at least one in the hallway outside of each bedroom, situated so that there is at least one smoke detector within 15-feet of every bedroom door.
There should be a smoke detector in the living space, near to the kitchen, but at least 20-feet away from any cooking equipment. A smoke detector should be in each room with a fireplace, but away from the fireplace to prevent false alarms.
Smoke alarms should be installed on ceilings or high up on walls. The NFPA states: “Since smoke and deadly gases rise, alarms should be placed on the ceiling at least 4 inches from the nearest wall, or high on a wall, 4-12 inches from the ceiling. This 4-inch minimum is important to keep alarms out of possible dead air spaces, because hot air is turbulent and may bounce so much it misses spots near a surface. Installing alarms near a window, door or fireplace is not recommended because drafts could detour smoke away from the unit. In rooms where the ceiling has an extremely high point, such as in vaulted ceilings, mount the alarm at or near the ceiling’s highest point.” If there is a cathedral or sloped ceiling, the smoke detector should be installed between 6-inches and 3-feet of the peak.
Along with keeping smoke detectors away from windows and doors, they should not be installed near vented skylights, within 3 feet of HVAC vents, or anywhere that a draft might interfere with their operation or the flow of smoke.
Bedrooms occupied by a person with a hearing impairment, should have a smoke alarm with a flashing light connected to and activated by a hallway mounted smoke detector.
Battery Powered Smoke Detectors
Each city is sovereign and has the right to adopt and modify building codes. With codes affecting smoke detectors, most cities comply with the Uniform Building Code (UBC), the Uniform Fire Code (UFC), and the National Electrical Code (NEC). These codes are updated every three years.
As of 2014, smoke alarms installed that are solely battery powered must have a sealed, non-removable ten (10) year battery. As of July of this year (2015), all existing battery powered smoke detectors must be replaced with those that contain a sealed battery that is rated to last 10 years. They must also be labeled by type, manufacture and date of installation.
State law makes the installation and testing of all smoke alarms the responsibility of the building owner. If the home or apartment is a rental, it is the landlord’s responsibility to install and test these units. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that smoke detectors be tested monthly. The NFPA also states that more than two-thirds of all homes are not in compliance with state and national codes regarding smoke detectors.
Remember: the single most important factor in fire prevention is the homeowner. Smoke alarms are the single most important means of preventing residential fire fatalities. Inspect your smoke alarms. Know what type you have. Make sure that you have at least one in all of the recommended locations. And test your smoke detectors every month.
The next post in our series on residential fire prevention will focus on the two main types of smoke alarms in use today: ionization and photoelectric.
Source Material and Further Reading
- The California State Fire Marshall’s, “California State Fire Marshal Information Bulletin 13-006,” update published March 10, 2014.
- The City of San Diego, CWP Guidelines, Section 16720: Fire and Smoke Alarm Systems.
- The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, “Smoke Detector Safety Tips.”
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