Monitored and Non-Monitored Smoke Alarms
One of the many advantages of a monitored, low voltage smoke detector is that it is monitored through your existing burglar alarm system. In the event of a fire, or the presence of smoke, an activation signal is sent immediately to your Central Station. Additionally, a signal is also sent to our Central Station to indicate that the detector has lost power or is operating on a back-up battery.
By contrast, when a regular 120 volt smoke detector trips, it makes a loud noise to warn the occupants of the presence of smoke. If the power goes out, it will only last as long as the battery that you have installed in it (assuming it works).
Oftentimes, you will see homes that have two smoke detectors side-by-side… one is to meet the city codes and the other is connected to the alarm system (either hardwired or wireless).
120 volt smoke detectors can be monitored, but are not the best way to go. While devices exist that allow these detectors to be connected to your alarm system, this practice is not recommended. The reason being, when your Central Station receives a signal, there is no way to determine the exact location of or which detector has been activated. This is because 120 volt detectors are “daisy-chained” when wired. This means that each detector is connected to a single cable. With low voltage detectors, each device is wired directly to the control panel (or sends a wireless signal to the control panel) without any “sharing”.
This can create a lot of frustration and wasted time for homeowners, the fire department and alarm technicians when trying to troubleshoot why an alarm occurred with any devices that have been “daisy-chained”. We only know that there was an alarm, but not the specific location where it originated from.
By contrast, with monitored, low voltage detectors, our Central Station knows immediately that an alarm is coming from the master bedroom,, the garage, etc. We then provide that information to the fire department when dispatching them to your home. This helps direct the fire departments efforts to save your home and your precious belongings.
False Alarm Issues
One of the most common reasons for a smoke detector tripping is something burning on the stove, and homeowners invariably end up disconnecting the 120 volt smoke detector closest to the kitchen. This is the very reason we recommend that those “regular” smoke detectors not be connected to the alarm system.
Instead, low voltage monitored smoke detectors should be installed outside of each bedroom, on the second floor, etc. and not near the kitchen.
What Should You Do?
- Determine if your existing smoke detectors are monitored or not (call your alarm company to ask).
- If your smoke detectors are more than three years old, consider replacing them… if they are more than five years old, definitely replace them.
- If you only have 120 volt smoke detectors installed, consider adding monitored low voltage smoke detectors to your alarm system. They can be hardwired or wireless.
A smoke alarm, also known as a smoke detector, is a device that detects smoke and issues an audible sound and/or a visual signal to alert residents to a potential fire.
Facts and Figures
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
- Although most newer homes have smoke alarms, about one-third of all deaths in house fires in 2011 occurred in homes that lacked working smoke alarms.
- Older homes are more likely to lack an adequate number of smoke alarms because they were built before requirements increased.
- In 23% of home fire deaths, smoke alarms were present but did not sound. Sixty percent of these failures were caused by the power supplies having been deliberately removed due to false alarms.
- Every year in the United States, about 3,000 people lose their lives in residential fires. Most of these deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, rather than as a result of burns.
Smoke Alarm Types
Ionization and photo-electric are the two main designs of smoke detectors. Both types must pass the same tests to be certified to the voluntary standard for smoke alarms, but they perform differently in different types of fires. Detectors may be equipped with one or both types of sensors — known as dual-sensor smoke alarms — and possibly a heat detector, as well.
These sensors are described as follows:
- Ionization smoke sensors are the most common and economical design and are available at most hardware stores. They house a chamber sided by small metal plates that irradiate the air so that it conducts electricity. When smoke enters the chamber, the current flow becomes interrupted, which triggers an alarm to sound. These sensors will quickly detect flaming-type fires but may be slower to react to smoldering fires.
- Photo-electric smoke sensors use a light-sensitive photocell to detect smoke inside the detector. They shine a beam of light that will be reflected by smoke toward the photocell, triggering the alarm. These sensor types work best on smoldering fires but react more slowly to flaming fires. They often must be hard-wired into the house’s electrical system, so some models can be installed only in particular locations.
While heat detectors are not technically classified as smoke detectors, they are useful in certain situations where smoke alarms are likely to sound false alarms. Dirty, dusty industrial environments, as well as the area surrounding cooking appliances, are a few places where false alarms are more likely and where heat detectors may be more useful.
Individual authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) may have their own requirements for smoke-alarm placement, so homeowners can check with their local building codes if they need specific instructions. The following guidelines, however, can be helpful.
Smoke alarms should be installed in the following locations:
- on the ceiling or wall outside of each bedroom;
- in the basement, preferably on the ceiling near the basement stairs;
- in the garage, due to all the combustible materials commonly stored there;
- on the ceiling or on the wall, with the top of the detector between 6 to 12 inches from the ceiling; and/or
- in each story within a building, including basements and cellars, but not crawlspaces or uninhabited attics.
Smoke alarms should not be installed in the following locations:
- near heating or air-conditioning supply and return vents;
- near a kitchen appliance;
- near windows, ceiling fans or bathrooms equipped with a shower or tub;
- where ambient conditions, including humidity and temperature, are outside the limits specified by the manufacturer’s instructions;
- within an unfinished attic or garage, or in other spaces where temperatures can rise or fall beyond the limits set by the manufacturer;
- where the mounting surface could become considerably warmer or cooler than the rest of the room, such as an inadequately insulated ceiling below an unfinished attic; or
- in dead-air spots, such as the top of a peaked roof or a ceiling-to-wall corner.
Power and Interconnection
Power for the smoke alarms may be hard-wired directly into the building’s electrical system, or it may come from just a battery. Hard-wired smoke detectors are more reliable because the power source cannot be removed or drained, although they will not function in a power outage unless they also have batteries for backup. Battery-operated units often fail because the battery can be easily removed, dislodged or drained, although these units can be installed almost anywhere. Older buildings might be restricted to battery-powered designs, while newer homes generally offer more options for power sources. If possible, homeowners should install smoke alarms that are hard-wired with a battery backup, especially during a renovation or remodeling project.
Smoke alarms may also be interconnected so that if one becomes triggered, they all sound in unison. Interconnected smoke alarms are typically connected with a wire, but new technology allows them to be interconnected wirelessly. The National Fire Protection Agency requires that smoke alarms be protected by arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs).
- Parents should stage periodic night-time fire drills to assess whether their children will awaken from the alarm and respond appropriately.
- Never disable a smoke alarm. Use the alarm’s silencing feature to stop nuisance or false alarms triggered by cooking smoke or fireplaces.
- Test smoke alarms monthly, and replace their batteries at least twice per year. Change the batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Most models emit a chirping noise when the batteries are low to alert the homeowner that they need replacement.
- Smoke alarms should be replaced when they fail to respond to testing, or every 10 years, whichever is sooner. The radioactive element in ionization smoke alarms will decay beyond usability within 10 years.
- Smoke detectors should be replaced if they become damaged or wet, are accidentally painted over, are exposed to fire or grease, or are triggered without apparent cause.
- Note the sound of the alarm. It should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and pool alarm.
People don’t often think about the fire risks posed by the light in their clothes closet, but it’s one of the few places in the house where a source of high heat can get too close to flammable materials. I come across this problem often in early 20th century homes. Back then, is was all too common to see a lone incandescent light bulb with a pull chain in a closet. Today, lighting must be installed safely, with adequate separation from clothes, boxes and other flammables stored in the closet. We can also choose the quality of the light, as well as bulb efficiency.
According to the 2009 International Residential Code, closet lighting should be surface mounted with lamps completely enclosed with a clearance from any combustibles of, 12 inches for incandescent or LED lights, and 6 inches for florescent lighting.
Metal pull chains on old ceramic closet fixtures may be dangerous as well; if the base cracks, the chain can become electrified. Should you be standing on a hardwood floor barefoot after a shower, you may get the surprise of your life.
Homeowners should replace lighting in their clothes closets if the light has the potential to ignite flammable materials in the closet.
For other helpful tips on how to improve your home and keep your family safe, check back often.
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Scott Price, CPI, #1532
Certified Home Inspector
Home Run Inspections
We cover all of the bases!
Serving the Oklahoma City metro and surrounding areas including Edmond, Guthrie, Cashion, Yukon, Moore, Norman, Chickasha, Midwest City/Del City, Bethany, El Reno, Shawnee, Harrah, and more.
How can I prevent CO poisoning?
- Purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing that they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034 or Comprehensive Safety Analysis 6.19 safety standards.
- Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Have the heating system professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
- Never service fuel-burning appliances without the proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments and when servicing fuel-burning equipment.
- Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
- Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
- Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
- Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
- Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
- During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
- Do not place generators in the garage or close to the home. People lose power in their homes and get so excited about using their gas-powered generator that they don’t pay attention to where it is placed. The owner’s manual should explain how far the generator should be from the home.
- Clean the chimney. Open the hatch at the bottom of the chimney to remove the ashes. Hire a chimney sweep annually.
- Check vents. Regularly inspect your home’s external vents to ensure they are not obscured by debris, dirt or snow.
Certified Home Inspector
Home Run Inspections
Home Run Inspections, LLC
We are an All-Star Team of Professional Inspectors providing Excellence in Inspection Services to Help You Assess & Maintain the Value of Your Real Estate Investments.
Proudly providing inspection services to the OKC Metro Area, including Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman, Yukon, Moore, Mustang, Midwest City, Piedmont, Guthrie, and Choctaw.
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