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  • Writer's pictureBrett Hodgdon, PE

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

If you build a home today, you are required to install smoke alarms on each floor, in the immediate vicinity of each bedroom, and inside of each bedroom. In addition, one carbon monoxide (CO) alarm must be installed on each level of the home. The alarms must be hardwired into the electrical system, contain battery backup and be interconnected. This ensures the alarms are operational when the electric supply is on or off and that the alarm in your bedroom will sound in the event the alarm in the basement located two floors below detects the presence of a fire.

The majority of homes I inspect were constructed long before these requirements came around. A West Virginia home inspection is not a “code” inspection that is designed to bring an old house up to new construction standards. A home inspection is a visual analysis and operation of the major systems and components within a home to determine if they are functioning properly. There are many conditions in existing homes that would not meet current building code.

I often find only one smoke alarm in an entire home and rarely find CO alarms. When these devices are present, they are often past their useful life expectancy. As a Certified West Virginia home inspector, I am required to report on the presence or absence of smoke and CO alarms and recommend the installation of these alarms per current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and in compliance with West Virginia Code § 29-3-16a(a). This section requires smoke alarms be installed in the same locations discussed previously and that they by capable of sensing visible or invisible particles of combustion (i.e. ionization and photoelectric devices). For additional safety in existing homes, products that provide wireless interconnectivity are available on the market today.

Smoke alarms have a useful life of up to 10 years while CO alarms have a typical life expectancy of 5-7 years. Many of these devices have a date of manufacture stamped on their backside. If the units are found to be aging, it is recommended they be replaced. Alarms should be tested monthly.

Fires occur. Smoke and CO alarms save lives. This is truly a rather be safe than sorry and a more the merrier situation. It is also prudent to have a fire extinguisher located on each floor and in the garage. My family recently invested in fire extinguishers for our home for under $300.

The West Virginia State Fire Marshal and NFPA have great information and fun stuff about fire safety for adults and children.

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