This week I’ve come across a disturbing trend. It revolves around one of the most basic safety items in your home, the smoke detector.

We all know, basically what they are for. To alert us in case of a fire. We all know we should have operational ones in our homes. We all know they do save lives.

What we may not know is this. There are a couple different types.

First hardwired or battery powered. Hardwired detectors are powered by AC, the electricity in your home and equipped with battery back up. The benefits of hardwired systems is the battery is only a back up and will last longer. The BIG benefit is if they are hardwired they can be configured in such a way that they all sound together. This configuration provided maximum safety (and is often required in multi family homes for obvious reasons).

Now smoke detectors often can be purchased as combination devices designed to detect smoke and carbon monoxide, an invisible deadly gas. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. It is toxic and can be emitted from burning fuel. Most people think car exhaust. What many folks don’t consider is an improperly maintained heating system can also emit carbon monoxide into your home. The cost difference is very small, I recommend getting the combination smoke/CO detectors.

Lastly, most people I meet don’t know that it is recommended that any detector older than 10 years be replaced. The sensors and electronics inside do not last forever, and a unit over 10 years old may not function as desired. When you buy your detector, write the purchase date on the inside of the battery cover in marker, then you know. You’ll see it when you change out the battery.

That brings me back to the disturbing trend. I see lots of detectors up without batteries. I get all kinds of excuses as to why they are out. Lets overcome these objections to safety for a moment, shall we?

  • The thing was chirping and annoying me, so i took out the battery and forgot to replace it. Seriously?  That’s the idea of the chirping. To tell you to put a new battery in. Anyway to avoid this issue I recommend a regular battery change with another scheduled event. I change out batteries when you decorate for the holidays, you have likely purchased batteries for gifts, and may have the step stool out to decorate anyway. Another good time is every year when you change the clock for daylight savings change the batteries in your smoke/CO detectors.
  • It was going off all the time for no reason. There are a couple reasons this may happen. If the unit is too old it may do this. Also if the unit is going off, there may actually be smoke or CO present. Leave it up.
  • I own rental property and the tenants just take them down. I do see this frequently, and I agree its tough to stop this one. I’m still not sure why they do it, some because they don’t want to pay the $4 for the new battery, some apparently like increased risk of death by house fire. In any case I tell my property owners 2 things: first in a hardwired system, disabling the system in any way for a multi family dwelling may be a felony in your area (check your local laws), this may scare someone into keeping it there. Second your insurance company will likely drop you if they find out, and no insurance means you cant rent the dwelling out and your tenant is homeless. Also offer to reimburse them the battery cost.

In any case, smoke and CO detectors are important, they save lives, and are inexpensive to buy and maintain. Be safer and put them up, and keep them working.

Mike Auger
Rhode Island Home Inspector
Auger Enterprises, Inc.
inspectormikeauger@gmail.com
(401) 578 – 4878
RICB # 32856
NACHI # 110606065