Home inspectors

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Smoke Alarms are a Must

Your agent has alerted you to a vital fire safety deficiency in your home. Not only should you install smoke alarms prior to selling, you should have them for your own safety throughout your occupancy. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, less than one minute may elapse between the time a house is beginning to smoke until it is completely engulfed in flames. If you happen to be sleeping during that minute, you could miss out on the rest of your life.

The fact that you've never had a fire is no guarantee you never will. A set of properly positioned alarms can ensure that you or the buyer of your home will be awakened in time to seek safety.

Smoke alarm laws have been part of the building code for more than 20 years, yet are among the most frequently violated of home safety requirements. A significant number of homes either have no smoke alarms, have too few, have ones that are incorrectly placed, or which are simply inoperative. So let's take a quick look at the proper deployment of these imperative life-saving devices.

Smoke alarm requirements are not the same for every home. They vary according to local municipal standards and the age of a specific dwelling. For homes built prior to 1979, battery-powered smoke alarms are permissible. In newer dwellings, alarms must be powered by the electrical wiring. The problem with battery units is that people often neglect battery replacement. On the other hand, what good are wired-in smoke alarms if you have an electrical fire accompanied by a power outage? The safest arrangement, therefore, is to install wired-in alarms, equipped with battery back-up. This type of integrated alarm can be obtained at most hardware stores and is required for homes built as of 1993.

As to smoke alarm placement, requirements also vary according to the age of the dwelling. In older homes, most municipalities require alarms in the following locations: Within close proximity to all bedroom entrances, on each story of a multi-level home, and in basements. The latest standards, enacted in 1993, require that there be an additional alarm in each bedroom. Another practical location, although not required, is the garage.

Additionally, wherever smoke alarms are installed, ceilings are the best specific locations, primarily because smoke rises. However, it is permissible to install an alarm on a wall, as long as it is within 12 inches of the ceiling.

One final requirement involves homes that are remodeled or enlarged: When the cost of an addition or alteration exceeds $1000, and whenever a permit is required, smoke alarms must be installed in compliance with the latest standards, regardless of the age of the building.

Above all, wherever you place your alarms and whatever kind of smoke alarms you use, be sure to test them regularly to ensure that they are operative at all times.

For further details regarding specific smoke alarm requirements in your area, it is advised that you consult your local fire department.