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Smoke Detectors

In an emergency; a smoke detector can be one of the most valuable devices in your home. They can alert you to a silent killer as you sleep, or warn you that the cookies are done, OK, over done. But in either case they can save your life and property from damage. Over the years prior to the advent of smoke detectors many people have been injured or perished in house fires.

The first automatic fire alarm was invented in 1890 and a heat detector patented in 1902. In the 1930’s a detector intended to test for poison gas was invented, but it did not function well for that purpose but did react to smoke particles. These were expensive and only really used in commercial buildings. Since then of course many changes have occurred in the technology that is used for detection, in nuclear chemistry and solid state circuitry.

As that technology and our ability to mass produce items increased; it made them not only more affordable but common place in our homes after the 1960’s. The requirement for detectors became a standard part of the building codes in residential construction as well as commercial buildings. Originally in a home; detectors were required to be installed in hallways on each level of the home and be powered by the structure.

Residentially; smoke detectors are currently required to be installed in bedrooms and the adjoining hallway with a minimum of one per floor. In most of the new homes the hallways are combination smoke / CO detectors which will enunciate in the event of either a fire or high CO readings. Be sure to change the batteries annually and test them monthly. Detectors are currently required to be installed on every level of a home, in bedrooms and the adjoining hallways. The smoke detectors in newer homes are interconnected, so if one activates they all are placed in alarm. In older homes without existing “hardwired” power in place, battery only detectors can be installed and meet the “intent” of the building standards. There is not a requirement to alter the home to bring it up to the current level of protection. However if major renovations are performed where building powered detectors can be installed then it is a requirement to install them and bring the home to the current standards.

We recently had a friend lose their home to a chimney fire. As it would happen they were home at the time and heard the crackling of the fire before the detector went off. Their fire was in the rafters and attic space above the living area, which rendered the detectors useless. Having a detector installed in the attic space would have given an advance warning and may have helped limit the extensive damage that resulted. The installation of fire sprinklers in this case would not have helped either as the fire was in the rafters and attic spaces rather than in the habitable space.

Test your detectors regularly; change the batteries at least annually and replace the units every 10 years as the manufacturers suggest.

No one should sleep through a fire.

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