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A Guide To Recent Changes In Massachusetts Laws About Smoke Alarms

Working smoke alarms are your first, and many times, your only life-saving defense against fires. In 2014, almost one-quarter of residential fire victims had no working smoke alarms to warn them. In 12% of these fires, smoke alarms were present but failed to operate.

Keeping the variety of different laws and regulations regarding the installation and technology of smoke alarms straight is no easy task. Even the savviest property owners can become quickly confused and unsure of whether smoke alarms they’ve installed previously comply with regulations and/or what they would need to purchase to be in compliance.

But fear not; Koopman is here to help! In this blog post, we will explain exactly what the changes in Massachusetts state law enacted on December 1, 2016 mean. This will make it a lot easier for you to assess whether or not these new requirements affect your particular property and what type of alarm is needed and in which locations.

Two Different Types of Smoke Alarms

Let’s begin with an explanation of the two different types of smoke alarms; photoelectric and ionization.

Photoelectric smoke alarms

In these alarms, a light source and light sensor are arranged so that the rays from the light source hit the light sensor. When smoke particles enter the light path, some of the light is scattered and redirected onto the sensor, causing the detector to activate an alarm.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are the most effective type of smoke alarm at detecting smoldering fires (slow fires), which have been attributed to a larger portion of fatal fires than flaming fires. Luckily these alarms are also effective at detecting flaming fires (fast fires).

Photoelectric technology is a more recent advancement than ionization.

Ionization smoke alarms

Ionization alarms contain a small radioactive source that is used to charge the air inside a small chamber. The charged air allows a small current to cross through the chamber and complete an electrical circuit.  When smoke enters the chamber, it shields the radiation, which stops the current and triggers an alarm.

Ionization smoke alarms are the quickest type of smoke alarm at detecting flaming fires (fast fires).  They respond to smoldering fires much more slowly.  This type also results in an increase in the risk of nuisance alarms caused by steam or cooking smoke.

Ionization is an older technology than photoelectric.

What Changed In Smoke Alarm Laws

The Massachusetts Smoke Alarm Requirements apply to homes built BEFORE January 1, 1975 that have not been substantially altered. For personal protection, it is best to ensure your system complies with the new regulations. Enforcement is limited to those times when a property is being renovated or sold. A property cannot change hands without a certificate of inspection from the local Fire Marshall.

The December 2016 regulations established both MINIMUM and RECOMMENDED levels of protection.

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS are those items that are required to obtain a certificate of inspection. In addition, there are two new equipment requirements for this category:

  • All required smoke alarms must be photoelectric type (or combination type)
  • Must have 10-year, sealed, non-replaceable batteries
    (See a full list of requirements below)

RECOMMENDED PROTECTION are recommended items for enhanced personal protection. Installation of these additional items is voluntary.

  • Installation of additional smoke detectors on the ceiling inside each bedroom
  • Non-Required smoke detectors may have replaceable batteries
  • Non-Required smoke detectors may be a photoelectric type, an ionization type, or a combination type.

Why is January 1, 1975, chosen as the cutoff date?

Simply, homes built after that date were already required by the state building code to have hard-wired power supplies for smoke detectors. Working smoke alarms installed prior to December 1, 2016—that met requirements—may continue to be used until they are 10 years old, or have exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended life. Even those hard-wired detectors need to have backup batteries replaced.

Minimum Requirements for New Smoke Alarms in One-and Two-Family Residences Built before 1975

In order to be in compliance with Massachusetts’ state law, follow this handy guide provided by state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security:

In addition, here are some recommendations for enhanced protection.

  • Additional battery-powered smoke alarms can be installed.  Fire officials recommend an alarm on the ceiling of each bedroom.
  • Non-required smoke alarms may have replaceable batteries
  • Combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms must follow the requirements for smoke alarm placement and battery power.  They must have both a tone and a simulated voice alarm to distinguish the type of alarm.
  • Test your smoke and CO alarms MONTHLY and replace alkaline batteries twice a year.  Remember, when you change the clocks, change the batteries.

Wrap Up

Now that you’ve read this blog post, you can understand whether the recent changes in Massachusetts state law apply to you and how to be in compliance.  For the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to keep your family safe, the batteries to keep them in working order, and any other questions you might have; come on in and see the friendly, knowledgeable staff at your local Koopman Lumber store!