Written by:
Wes Kelley, Certified Inspector
7 Oaks Home Inspection, LLC

(1) Did you replace your smoke detectors when you moved in your new home and at least every 10 years thereafter? This is a must do for every home. Your first night in a new place will mean more restful sleep knowing there’s no chance of malfunctioning fire detectors. There are three basic kinds of residential smoke detectors.

Ionization Smoke Detectors powered by batteries are the most common kind and economically available at most local hardware stores. They can be mounted easily in almost any location. They use a small radioactive source (not harmful to humans) to cause the air inside the detector to be able to carry electric current. When there is contact with smoke the flow of electricity is blocked which causes the alarm to sound.

Photoelectric Smoke Detectors use a light sensitive photocell to detect smoke inside the detector. They usually require a connection to an electrical supply but are also available with a battery backup. A light bulb puts out a beam of light. The photocell is hidden from direct exposure to the light beam. Smoke entering the detector causes the light beam to be reflected in several directions. The photo cell detects the reflected light and causes the alarm to go off.

The Thermal Detectors usually require an electrical supply and react to heat rather than smoke. A fire must raise the heat level near the detector to cause the alarm to go off. This kind of detector is mostly used in dusty dirty environments usually for industrial type places. In the residential setting the preferred place would be near the kitchen stove as the other types of alarms can give false alarms.

(2) How many Fire Extinguishers do you need? You need more than one type of fire extinguisher to protect your home. In a three bedroom home with a basement and a garage, I recommend that you have at least four extinguishers. One Class B extinguisher should be in your kitchen area. These are meant to extinguish grease, gas and other flammable liquids. One Class A extinguisher should be in your garage. These are meant for wood, cloth, paper and plastic type fires. One Class A extinguisher should be kept near the bedroom and also one in the basement.

(3) Do you replace your smoke detectors every ten years? The Consumer Product Safety Commissions came up with the 10 year guidelines. Older units tend to become more sensitive causing rise to more false alarms and people tend to disconnect the power supply on them. A 1994 CPSC study found that sixty percent of detector failures were caused by the power supply (electricity or batteries) intentionally being removed due to problems with false alarms. Fifty percent of the failed detectors were more than 10 years olds.

(4) Do you have a Carbon Monoxide Detector? Carbon Monoxide kills silently and sneakily. It is a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of fossil fuels burning. It can be generated by wood stoves, fireplaces, appliances that use natural gas, propane or oil such as furnaces, apace heaters, dryers, kitchen ranges or other open flame appliances Normally the gases generated by burning are vented safely outside the home. Blocked vents or not enough oxygen to the burners can quickly cause elevated levels of Carbon Monoxide.

(5) Do you have a Fire Escape Plan? Draw your homes floor plan being sure to include all doors and windows. Determine at least two exits from every room. Make sure every person living in your home is familiar with the fire escape plan. Include a meeting place outside the house so you can easily determine that everybody has made it out.

(6) Do you have a fire proof container for your really important papers? Birth certificates, wills, stocks and irreplaceable keepsakes should be in a fire proof box. It might seem easier to use a bank vault. Also include backing up pertinent computer information on discs and include that with your valuable paper.

(7) Are you planning to build a new home? Have you considered a residential fire sprinkler system in your new house? These are pretty routine in newer, higher end type homes in the St. Louis area. They typically cost $0.60 to $1.00 per square foot to install in a new construction home. They will greatly reduce fire and smoke damage. Only the heads exposed to the fire start spraying water. The 15 to 18 gallons per minute is significantly less than the 75 to 250 gallons from the firefighter’s high pressure hose.

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