New smoke detector technology in the home

Home fire prevention

Among some of the new disclosure requirements for home sellers here in Maryland include those regarding smoke detectors.  Currently, home sellers are required to disclose whether or not smoke detectors “provide an alarm in the event of a power outage.”  However, there are new disclosure and updating requirements.

Effective July 1st, home sellers will be required to disclose to home buyers if installed smoke detectors exceed ten years of age, and if installed smoke have a sealed 10-year battery.  Approved by the Governor on May 16th, HB 1413/SB 969 was described by the Maryland Association of Realtors® Government Affairs Committee as having to provide such disclosure on an updated Maryland Property Condition Disclosure Form.  The summary also describes requirements for home owners, whose systems malfunction when tested or who have smoke detectors and battery operated systems older than ten years of age, to update older smoke detectors to new sealed battery systems.  Additionally, hardwired systems are required to be updated every ten years or at time of malfunction.  Additionally, landlords of one and two unit dwellings are required to upgrade to the new sealed battery systems when there is a change of occupancy or if current smoke detectors malfunction; in the case of buildings that contain more than two units, the legislation states that responsibility falls on the occupants to test and notify the landlord to replace smoke detectors (

Although smoke detectors have been around for some time now, the technology is changing and is the main focus of the Maryland Smoke Alarm Technology Task Force Final Report (available at the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service website;  The Task Force was requested by the Maryland Fire Marshall to review smoke alarm data to determine strategies to reduce fire related deaths as well as identifying technology to improve smoke detectors.

One of the top recommendations made by the Task Force was to have battery operated smoke detectors “be the type that contains a long life sealed battery as its power source.”  Other recommendations include: the requirement for all State jurisdiction to adopt the International Residential Code (IRC) requirement to update smoke detectors whenever applications for permits are submitted; the requirement of installation of smoke detectors in all bedrooms and every level of existing homes; and the requirement for home sellers to provide smoke detectors that meet the building code.

Even though the smoke detector has been a regular feature of the home for many years, most home owners don’t understand the technology.  There are currently two fundamental types of smoke detectors, the ionization type and the photoelectric type:  The ionization smoke detector contains a very small quantity of radioactive material inside a component known as a sensing chamber, and “provides a somewhat faster response to high-energy or open flaming fires, due to the fact that these types of fires generally produce smaller aerosols.” While photoelectric type “responds faster to the aerosols generated by low-energy or smoldering fires, since these types of fire tend to produce larger particles.”  While many experts recommend that homes have both types of detectors, new technology smoke detectors will combine both types of detectors (from the Maryland Smoke Alarm Technology Task Force Final Report).

In addition to properly installed smoke detectors, experts recommend to plan and practice escape routes to reduce the time needed to escape a burning home.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2013

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