Smoke Detectors For Your Safety!

I am often asked why do I need a home inspection and what is the most important information I can expect from a home inspection report. Without a doubt, reporting on Health and Safety Issues is my priority in inspecting a single family residence or any other property. Identifying hazards, potential life threatening conditions and conditions that may lead to health issues is sufficient reason alone for a competent professional home inspection.

Secondarily, when I report on a home, the categories I weigh heavily are building components and sub-systems that have failed, are failing or may fail in the near future due to age, condition, improper installation or lack of maintenance. In the Real Estate Purchase transaction, buyers are usually most interested in the condition of systems and components to evaluate the home and to make an informed buying decision. Emphasis in my reports centers on those systems (foundations, framing and roofs, electrical and plumbing systems) and components (force air heating and cooling systems, water heaters and appliances) that may have high value or significant replacement costs. All of my reports comply with the California Real Estate Inspection Association Standards of Practice. This information may have an impact on the real estate selling price or property condition in the escrow period. With this information, the buyer may request a seller make certain repairs or adjust their selling price to reflect repairs or maintenance that may be needed to ensure the subject property is safely habitable or to replace high value components that may be at the end of their useful expected life cycle.

One of the most important issues in a home inspection is reporting on the presence or lack of smoke detectors in the proper location in residences and buildings. Smoke detectors have been required in single family and multi-family residences in California since 1986. Generally, most local jurisdictions have the following requirements under the California Health & Safety Code Section 13113.8 that requires all single-family residences sold after January 1, 1986, shall have smoke detectors and that the seller is responsible for providing the buyer or buyer’s agent with a written statement indicating that the residence is equipped with at least one operating smoke detector at the time of sale.
After 1992 and under certain other conditions, smoke detectors must be hard-wired into the building electrical system, in new construction must be wired in series or be wirelessly remote connected and in each case must have battery back ups.

Various changes to these regulations have resulted in the current California Residential Code Title 24, Part 2.5 adopted January 2011 that states the following:

The minimum requirement for smoke detectors is:
a. one smoke detector in each sleeping room.
b. One smoke detector in the hallway outside of the sleeping rooms.
c. If the home is multi-story or multi-level, there shall be at least one smoke detector on each floor
d. Smoke detectors may be electric (Hard-wired) or battery powered.

Note: above are the minimum requirements for smoke detectors installation and placement. Tests have confirmed the more smoke detectors installed, the higher the level of protection. Additionally, I recommend the installation of appropriate smoke detectors in or near laundry rooms, garages and kitchens. Laundry room fires usually occur as a result of lack of maintenance to dryer exhaust vents and inappropriate exhaust vent connectors (i.e. lint build up in plastic or corrugated white vinyl connector hoses). These fires, while generally do not result in fatalities, cause localized extensive damage and personal injury. Placement here must avoid the high humidity levels associated with dryers. Garages can have water heaters and heating equipment that under some circumstances may be an ignition source for stored items, landscape equipment fuels and solvents. Do not install combination smoke/CO detectors in garages as idling automobile fumes will set off the CO detector. Kitchen fires are usually the result of grease fires on the stove top. The danger is that the flames will migrate into the filter hood above and spread through the piping in the exhaust vent. Major damage and personal injury can result if the fire spreads into the structural framing and adjacent cabinetry. (Keep a working charged ABC designated fire extinguisher in the kitchen.) It is important to use a photoelectric type of smoke detector (mounted at least 10 ft from the stove/broiler) in kitchens as they are less susceptible to “nuisance” alarms from cooking appliances and the temptation to disable the alarm by removing the battery.

Testing the operation of smoke detectors is not a requirement in a home inspection, only noting the presence or absence of these devices. It is up to the homeowner to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for monthly testing, cleaning the unit to prevent dust build up, periodic replacement of batteries as required and replacement of the smoke detector unit every 8-10 years. It is recommended that purchasers closely examine smoke detectors in homes over 10 years old and if required, replace these units with more sensitive and reliable technology currently available.

More on smoke detector technology and the controversy surrounding two types of smoke detectors and their ability to sense certain types of fires in my next post!