My Home Inspector Blog: If You Have These Smoke Alarms, Get Rid Of Them!

If You Have These Smoke Alarms, Get Rid Of Them!

If You Have These Smoke Alarms, Get Rid Of Them!


There are two types of smoke alarms, photoelectric and ionization. Which one should you use? Ionization alarms respond marginally faster to an open or “fast-flame” fire than a photoelectric smoke alarm. On average, ionization alarms will react about 30 to 90 seconds faster to this type of fire. 


However, nearly 100% of residential fire fatalities are from smoke inhalation and not from the actual fire. Most fatal fires happen at night while the occupants are asleep. An ionization alarm will respond 30 to 90 minutes slower to a smoldering fire than a photoelectric alarm. In these situations, a photoelectric alarm will alert the occupants and allow a safe exit about 96% of the time. Ionization alarms will give sufficient warning less than 40% of the time, meaning that 60% of the time someone may die!


A slow response time isn't the only problem with an ionization alarm. Nuisance tripping can occur when cooking, showering, etc. Many times, people become frustrated and intentionally disable the detectors, leaving their household completely unprotected. Approximately two-thirds of all residential fire deaths occur in homes that are unprotected. Ionization alarms account for over 85% of disabled alarms. Most of the remaining fire deaths occur when a smoke alarm sounds too late for the occupants to escape.




Significant research going back to the mid-1970's clearly shows ionization alarms are slow to react to smoldering fires. I
t has taken decades, but there is finally a growing public awareness of this problem. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) recently took a stand, and now recommends that only photoelectric smoke alarms be installed. 


Which Ones Do You Have?


If your alarm has a “Hush” feature, it is probably an ionization unit. If the label mentions radioactive material, Americium-241, or if there is an "I" in
the model number- it is probably an ionization alarm. If there is any doubt, play it safe and replace the units with photoelectric alarms.








What About Combination Smoke/CO Alarms?


Combination photoelectric/carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are available. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. CO detectors should be replaced every 5 to 7 years. With a combination unit, you are either replacing the smoke alarm too soon, or relying on a CO detector that is past its expiration date. Separate units make more sense. Photoelectric alarms provide the best protection in real-world fires. This year, don't just replace your smoke alarm batteries – replace your alarms with photoelectric units and recommend that your families, friends, and neighbors all do the same!


Steve Stenros- First Choice Inspections, a CREIA MCI and ICC certified inspector provides home inspections in San Diego, Orange, and Riverside counties in southern California. Clients receive a FREE lifetime appliance RecallChek with every standard inspection. Steve can be reached for appointment at 888-335-3040. If You Have These Smoke Alarms, Get Rid Of Them!

 

 


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Comment balloon 51 commentsSteve Stenros • August 04 2011 12:18AM

Comments

I think a lot of houses have these alarms.  You want to get the right ones before its too late.

Posted by Chuck Carstensen, Minnesota Real Estate Expert (RE/MAX Results) over 7 years ago

OK, my house has four of these alarms. What that means is that hundreds of homes in my neighborhood also have them.

Incredible tip. Thank you so much.

Off to the store to get new ones!

Posted by Jon Quist, Tucson's BUYERS ONLY Realtor since 1996 (REALTY EXECUTIVES TUCSON ELITE) over 7 years ago

Very good info!

Posted by Simon Webster (CRE Credit Services) over 7 years ago

Good evening Steve, your post just cured a problem with the smoke alarm in our kitchen.  A new one is on the shopping list for tomorrow!

Posted by Dan Edward Phillips, Realtor and Broker/Owner (Dan Edward Phillips) over 7 years ago

Great info Steve..... I'm good with the alarms I have, the were all put in new with the new wiring I needed 2 years ago. But, I still haven't gotten to installing the Carbon Monoxide alarms..... do I need the same number as smoke detectors?

Posted by TERI LINDSAY, STAGELIGHT HOME STAGING CO. over 7 years ago

Chuck: I just recently found out about these. You pretty much need to do your own research on things any more! Appreciate the re-blog!

Jon: My house was full of them, too! Appreciate the re-blog!

Simon: Thanks for your comment!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Thanks Dan. You might want to remove the kitchen smoke alarm, if you make toast like I do!

Teri: No, you don't. Here's a recent article I wrote explaining the necessary location of carbon monoxide alarms.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Steve, you have again posted a must-read article! I'm sure there are many who don't know there is a difference between the two. 

Posted by Pamela Seley, Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA (West Coast Realty Division) over 7 years ago

Yes the smoke detectors are there for our safety.  Wow some people who disable them are taking a big risk.

Posted by Tim Lorenz, 949 874-2247 (TIM LORENZ - Elite Home Sales Team) over 7 years ago

I was thinking of getting a combination smoke/carbon monoxide detector but decided against it and got separate units. After reading your post, glad I did!

Posted by Pacita Dimacali, Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA (Alain Pinel) over 7 years ago

Thanks Pamela! The manufacturers promote them as equals, but they definitely aren't!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Tim: When a detector keeps nuisance tripping, it's a pain. Usually they sound off in the middle of a good night's sleep!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Great Pacita! Now check to see if your smokie is an ionization unit. Real easy to check.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Thanks for the advice Steve, we can let our customers and clients know to get the correct protection for their family.

Posted by Al Raymondi, Ormond By The Sea Florida - Home and Condo Sales (Ocean View Realty Group in Ormond By The Sea Florida) over 7 years ago

You're welcome, Al. Photoelectric is the way to go!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Steve, this is really good info, and I'm going to re-blog it.

It also reminded me that I STILL need to replace my smoke alarms!

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, C.O.O., Winslow Homes (Winslow Homes) over 7 years ago

Thank you, Jeremy! And remember to buy the photoelectric when you do!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

This is a good stat to share with clients: photoelectric alarm will alert the occupants and allow a safe exit about 96% of the time

Posted by Daniel H. Fisher, MCRP - Charlotte Real Estate, NC or SC (www.FisherHermanRealty.com (704) 617-3544) over 7 years ago

Daniel: Most people think all smoke alarms are the same!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Steve:  Your posts are so informative, I will advise my clients of this....I have many clients buying investment homes right now and they need this information.  Thanks!

Posted by Sidney Kutchuk - Realty Works Temecula Kutchuk - Realty Works Temecula, Realty Works Temecula (Realty Works Temecula) over 7 years ago

Jane: I'm glad you found it useful! Thanks for your comment.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Steve, will do!  Photoelectric it is!

Do you know if there is a move afoot to get the ion kind off the market?

And one of my customers asked if the ion kind were the older ones, or the ones still on the market.  I told him I'd bet you could still get both at this point.

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, C.O.O., Winslow Homes (Winslow Homes) over 7 years ago

Jeremy: Not that I know of. Both kinds are still on the market. Several municipalities here in California have begun to mandate the photoelectric units in new construction.

 

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Steve, thanks for the update and confirmation of what I suspected.  I'll keep an eye out for all my customers on this one!

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, C.O.O., Winslow Homes (Winslow Homes) over 7 years ago

Great information and it can save lives. What a great tid bit to send out to SOI contacts. Thanks so very much Steve.

Posted by Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD, REALTORS® in Clark County, WA (ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors) over 7 years ago

Steve, I was unaware of the differences and appreciate your technical explanation.

Posted by Wayne Johnson, San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale (Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS®) over 7 years ago

Debb, Wayne: Thanks for your comments. Pass the information on!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Good Evening Steve:  Great information on Fire Alarms.  I'll definitely check to see what we have at home.  Great information

Posted by C. Lloyd McKenzie, Living Albuquerque over 7 years ago

Lloyd: You'll find that the photoelectric detectors are not really that much costlier than the ionization detectors.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Are the photoelectric alarms clearly identified as such on their packaging? That'd certainly make it easier to choose at the store!

Thanks again for another great post!

Posted by David Companik, Realtor ▪ The WoodlandsTX ▪ davidcompanik.com (Keller Williams Realty - The Woodlands) over 7 years ago

Absolutely, David! Thank you.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

I hope you don't mind me reposting this.  I am going to do this one and one more. 

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Not at all, Gene. I am always happy to have my posts re-blogged. That means it was worth passing on! Thank you!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

This is a great post!  I did not know this but will be actively looking for these now on my home inspections.  Thank you for sharing!

Posted by William (Bill) Zoller (U.S. Inspect, LLC) over 7 years ago

William: I don't list the ion detectors as a defect during an inspection because they have been approved. However, I make my clients aware of the differences between the two types and recommend they switch to the photoelectric detectors.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Thank you for the great information! I'll check mine asap.

Posted by Georgia Elite Realty (Georgia Elite Realty) over 7 years ago

Georgia: Glad I could help! Thanks for the comment.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) over 7 years ago

Excellent info Steve, thanks.  I didn't know about this.  I think I know what my weekend project is going to be.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

This is a great thing to point out to clients when purchasing a new home! Is there a significant price difference between the units that may make people want to pick the wrong one without knowing the difference?

Posted by Dawn P Faulkner, in ATLANTA,GA (Dawn Realtors) about 7 years ago

Rueben: That's something to look forward to! Have fun.

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) about 7 years ago

Dawn: There really isn't that great of a price difference! They usually sit side by side on the shelf. People don't know the difference, so they just pick one!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) about 7 years ago

You get very useful info from blogs,sometimes.Thanks.

Posted by David almost 7 years ago

Glad it was useful for you, David!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) almost 7 years ago

I have veray Blogs       However, nearly 100% of residential fire fatalities are from smoke inhalation and not from the actual fire.


<a href="http://www.alliedprotection.co.uk/">Fire alarm servicing</a>

Posted by petercameroon over 6 years ago

I have wired smoke smoke alarms. They go off for no apparent reason. I am at my wits end. Can you help me understand why.

Posted by William Streeter almost 4 years ago

William: How old are your smoke alarms? If they are more than ten years old, they are at the end of their useful life and should be replaced (with photo-electric type) anyhow. It's hard to say why they may be sounding off. It could either be alarm failure or a wiring issue...

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) almost 4 years ago

The NFPA recommends having one alarm on each level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area.

Posted by Inna Ivchenko, Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA (Barcode Properties) about 1 year ago

omg need help my smoke alarm keep going off when no smoke is there goes off when im out the house too getting phone calls from my neighbour about them or getting woke up at 5.30 am with them going off

Posted by leanne 12 months ago

You probably need to replace them, Leanne. They are only good for 10 years... Suggest replacement with photo-electric type!

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) 12 months ago

Hi Steve,My photosensitive smoke alarms keep going off. My house is only 3 yo. But only one is the culprit. I changed the battery but as soon as I plug it in, it sets off all the alarms. Is this a bad smoke detector or do I have electrical problems. Thansk

Posted by Babak 3 days ago

Babak,

I think you have a bad alarm. Try replacing it...

Posted by Steve Stenros, CREIA MCI, ICC, ACI Home Inspector,San Diego (Poway,La Jolla,Del Mar,Mira Mesa,Carlsbad,Escondido,Temecula) 3 days ago

Participate