Revised Smoke Detector Regs

Regulators Hope To Prevent Loss Of Life Due To Outdated Units

A changing regulation could stall closings after Dec. 1 if Realtors and homeowners don’t check smoke alarms before scheduling inspections.

The Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has adopted revised smoke alarm regulations with the goal of ensuring that homes sold are equipped with smoke alarms that are up to date and can be relied upon to work in an emergency.

The goal of the new regulations is to “ensure that people have working smoke alarms … we are trying to make it easier for people to maintain and take care of their smoke alarms so the smoke alarms can take care of them,” said Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the state’s Department of Fire Services (DFS).

The changes, which go into effect Dec. 1, apply only to one- or two-family homes that were built before 1975 and have not been substantially altered. Working smoke alarms installed before Dec. 1 (that meet current requirements) can continue to be used until they are 10 years old or have exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended life.

The most significant change is that battery-powered alarms that are more than 10 years old or have exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended life must be replaced with 10-year, sealed, non-rechargeable, non-replaceable batteries. This means that the alarms cannot be disabled by removing the batteries and that when they expire, the entire unit will need to be replaced, keeping sensing technology up to current standards. It also means that the frustration of change-the-battery beeps will be reduced to one end-of-life warning every 10 years. The revised regulation also includes a requirement that the alarm must contain a hush feature – so if you burn your toast you can quiet the alarm by pushing the hush button rather than removing the batteries. The alarm will automatically return to working order after a short period of time and if the smoke gets worse, the hush feature will be overridden.

Another difference is that new alarms must be photoelectric, though they can be in combination with ionization or carbon monoxide alarms. Photoelectric smoke alarms are less likely to result in “nuisance alarms” caused by steam or cooking smoke than ionization alarms, which State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey hopes will reduce attempts to disable units.

The revised regulations are in part a response to the increased presence of expired or disabled smoke alarms at the sites of recent fatal fires.

“Though they had different causes, the residential fires resulting in deaths all had a common thread of no working smoke alarms. We saw a significant amount of death as a result of a lack of warning from smoke alarms,” Ostroskey said.

Current policy requires smoke alarms to be replaced every 10 years, but the requirement is often neglected or ignored. The new regulation also aims to address out-of-date equipment; alarms that have exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended life span lose sensitivity in their sensors and often do not function properly.

Ostroskey and the DFS have been involved in a public awareness campaign about the importance of working smoke alarms since last year, but will be increasing their efforts with the arrival of these new guidelines and regulations.

“We will be doing press releases, it is available on our website, we’ll be reaching out to Realtor groups and homeowner groups and we’ll be on social media,” Mieth said.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors is doing its part to publicize the new requirements to its 22,000 Realtor-members and their buyers and sellers, in the hopes of preventing closing delays due to noncompliant fire safety equipment.

“We’ll be reaching out to our members and possibly homeowners as well so they can have all the information and be educated that the change is coming,” said Justin Davidson, MAR’s legislation and regulatory counsel.

By Beth Siegert | Banker & Tradesman Staff | Nov 6, 2016