NEW SMOKE DETECTOR LAW

NEW SMOKE DETECTOR LAW: Whenever a home is sold in Massachusetts, the law requires that the local fire department issue a certification that the smoke detectors are working properly and are in the correct location. The new smoke detector regulations go into effect on April 1, 2010. The regulations require that certain properties be equipped with the latest photoelectric smoke detectors which are not as prone to false alarms as older ionization based detectors.


SMOKE DETECTOR TECHNOLOGY There are two methods used in modern detectors: photoelectric and ionization. Ionization detectors typically have a constant current running between two electrodes. When smoke enters, it interrupts the current, setting off an alarm. Ionization detectors are often faster to alert than photoelectric detectors. However, ionization detectors are unable to differentiate between smoke and steam. As a result, they are prone to false alarms when steam from a shower or other source interrupts the current. This is especially true when the ionization detector is placed in close proximity to a kitchen or bathroom. Photoelectric detectors emit a beam of light. In the absence of smoke, the beam passes in front of the detector in a straight line. When smoke crosses the path of the light beam, some light is scattered by the smoke particles, directing it at a sensor and triggering an alarm. Photoelectric detectors are less sensitive to false alarms from steam or cooking fumes but can take longer than ionization detectors to alert.


NEW REGULATIONS In recognition of the relative strengths and weaknesses of photoelectric versus ionization smoke detectors, the Board of Fire Prevention Regulation has passed a new regulation (527 CMR 32.00 et seq). Under the new regulation, a smoke detector utilizing both technologies is required in all previously required locations, except within 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom containing a bathtub or shower. Compliance can be achieved by installing two separate detectors using these technologies, or by installing one detector which uses both technologies. Within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom containing a bathtub or shower, only a photoelectric smoke detector is allowed. An ionization detector is prohibited in these places due to their tendency to be set off by steam.


PROPERTIES AFFECTED BY THE NEW REGULATION The new regulations will apply to all single family homes sold on or after January 1, 2010. They will also apply to all apartment buildings sold or transferred after January 1, 2010, which are less than 70 feet tall, have less than six units, or have not been substantially altered since January 1, 1975. Larger apartment buildings or those that were substantially altered since January, 1975 were already required to upgrade their fire safety systems under other existing laws.


CONCLUSION Compliance can be achieved by installing two separate detectors using these technologies, or by installing one detector which uses both technologies. For the area within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom containing a bathtub or shower, a photoelectric smoke detector alone is mandated. An ionization detector is prohibited in these places due to their tendency to be set off by steam.


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