The good news is according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, approximately 96% of all homes in the U.S. have smoke alarms installed. However, the bad news is almost 1 out of 5 (20%) of installed smoke alarms are non-operational, often just because of a dead battery. It has always amazed me as a real estate agent how often I find them with no batteries in them. If every house had a working fire alarm it is estimated that residential fire deaths in the U.S. could drop by approximately 36%.
There are two different types of smoke alarms commonly found in the United States: So, let’s get familiar with both of them.
Ionization smoke alarms contain a radioisotope. This radioisotope is typically Americium-241 and it is contained in an ionization chamber that acts as a shield to the alpha radiation it emits. The assembly ionizes the air, and if a potential difference due to smoke is detected, an audible alarm is sounded. For those of you freaked out by the thought of radioactive material in your home, don’t worry. The radiological risk is negligible as long as the radioisotope is untouched in the ionization chamber. We are subjected to more significant amounts of natural background radiation day-to-day than a normally operating ionic smoke alarm produces. Research has indicated that ionizing smoke alarms are more sensitive to heat and react quicker to rapidly growing fires that are in the “flame” stage.
Photoelectric smoke alarms do not contain a radioisotope. Instead, they work by using sources of light such as infrared, visible, or ultraviolet to monitor the surrounding air. If the intensity of the light being transmitted falls below a certain threshold as a result from scattering particulates, potentially caused by smoke, an audible alarm is then triggered by the circuitry to alert occupants of potential danger. According to research, optical (photoelectric) alarms are more sensitive to smoke, common with fires in the “early” or smoldering state.
TheNational Fire Protection Association (NFPA) “is a global self-funded nonprofit organization, established in 1896. NFPA is devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards”. They advise the installation of “combination alarms”, which use both the ionization and photoelectric smoke sensing methods for the best protection. Certain combination alarms may also include Carbon Monoxide (CO) detection ability.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms are designed to detect dangerous, and potentially fatal levels of CO in the home. Carbon monoxide is not naturally occurring and is produced by incomplete burning of carbon fuel sources including but not limited to natural gas, propane, and gasoline. Surprisingly, the State of Nevada has only required the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in all newly constructed homes since 2017. Another fun fact is that Nevada does not require the installation or retrofitting of CO alarms in homes built prior to 2017. We, however, highly encourage the installation of CO alarms in all homes, and in accordance with NFPA recommendations, even in homes that are all electric and have no carbon fuel utility.
The following are some questions with answers you should really keep in mind to make sure your family is safe.
Q: How often do smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms need to be replaced?
A: Smoke alarms should be replaced at least every 10 years. CO alarms and combination alarms should be replaced at least every 7 years. Certain smoke alarms now come factory equipped with a 10-year lithium-ion backup battery that doesn’t require replacement. Any replaceable battery (i.e. 9 volt) should be changed every 6 months. An easy way to remember this task is by doing it when the bi-annual time change occurs. Spring forward, Fall back! And if you take a marker and write the date the unit was installed inside that battery cover, every time you change your batteries you will see if it is time to replace the whole thing!
Q: My house has hardwired smoke alarms. Can I replace them with battery-operated ones?
A: If your home was originally equipped with wired smoke alarms, they really should be replaced with the same type, in the absolute interest of safety. It is recommended to have interconnection between all alarms in the home via wired connection or wireless technology such as Bluetooth. This way, when one sounds, they all sound.
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Choose to have an amazing day….Jeff