By Erby Crofutt, B4U Close Home Inspections www.b4uclose.com
Is your home as Fire Safe as you can make it?
The answers to these questions will help determine if your home is as safe as
you can make it.
* Do you have the right kind of Fire & Smoke Detectors?
* If your house has natural gas, propane or oil service, or a fireplace/wood
stove, do you have Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
* Are the detectors in the right places?
* Did you replace the detectors when you moved into your home and at least
every 10 years thereafter?
* Do you test the detectors on a monthly basis?
* Have you replaced the detector batteries recently?
* Do you have the right kind of Fire Extinguishers in the right places?
* Do you have a fire escape plan and practice it with your children?
* Do you have a fireproof container for all your really important documents?
(Birth Certificates, Stocks, Wills, precious drawings from school, etc)
* Do you have a residential fire sprinkler system in your house?
(These are mostly found in newer homes. They typically cost $0.60 to $1.00
a square foot in new homes (about the same as a carpet replacement) and can
greatly reduce both fire and water damage. Only heads exposed to the fire
start spraying water. The 15ó18 gallons a minute from the sprinkler system
are significantly less than the 75ó250 gallons from the firefighterís high
pressure hose! Costs to retrofit a home with a sprinkler system will be
There are three basic types of residential smoke detectors, all with different
means for detecting smoke and fire, different types of fires they detect best,
and different replacement reasons & needs.
* Ionization Smoke Detectors powered by batteries are the most common kind and
economically available at most local hardware and discount stores. They can
be mounted easily in just about any location. They use a small radioactive
source (not harmful to humans) to cause the air inside the detector to be
capable of carrying electric current. As particles of smoke enter the
detector they block the flow of electricity. Low electrical current causes
the alarm to sound. These detectors work best on flaming type fires (wood,
paper, etc) and react a little slower on smoldering fires (mattresses,
couches, etc). Batteries need to be replaced occasionally. If your detector
starts making a chirping sound every so often, you need to change
the battery. A general recommendation is to change these batteries every six
months, usually timed to a major event like springing forward to daylight
savings time or falling back to normal time. (Some newer smoke detectors
come with a 10 year Lithium battery that eliminates the need to change
batteries.) Remember battery powered detectors operate even during power
* 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. These detectors work best on smoldering fires
and react a little slower on flaming type fires. The light bulbs need
replacement every few years.
* Thermal Detectors, usually requiring a connection to an electrical supply,
react to heat rather than smoke. A fire must raise the heat level near the
detector to cause the alarm to go off. This type of detector is
primarily used in dusty, dirty environments usually found in industrial and
commercial applications. This is the type of detector that most fire
sprinkler heads use to detect heat, pop, and start spraying water. This
detector would be good near a cooking stove where an ionization or
photoelectric smoke detector might cause false alarms.
Where Should You Put Smoke Detectors?
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends smoke detectors in
every room; unfortunately that doesnít fit everyoneís budget abilities.
* In a hallway near several bedrooms, or even in each bedroom, is the most
important placement as most fires occur during sleeping hours.
* In the basement, preferably on the ceiling near the basement stairs.
* In the garage, over the door to the house, is a needed location because of
all the combustible materials we store there.
* If your house has more than one level, there should be at least one detector
on each level.
Put the detectors on the ceiling or on the wall with the top of the detector
between six to twelve inches from the ceiling. DO NOT put detectors on walls or
ceilings within six inches of the ceiling/wall corner. There is very little
circulation within this dead area. DO NOT put them near heating and air
conditioning supply & return vents.
Why should you replace your smoke detectors every 10 years?
The NFPA recommends, and some cities Fire Codes require, that smoke detectors be
tested at least monthly and replaced when they fail to respond or every 10 years
maximum. In addition, most manufacturers now mark their detectors for a maximum
life of 10 years. Why do they need to be replaced every 10 years? 10 years is a
somewhat arbitrary figure, developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
(CPSC) but, as with any equipment you buy (TVs, VCRs, etc), parts start breaking
and failing as the equipment ages. This includes smoke detectors. Sometimes
stuff just breaks without us noticing (in the case of smoke detectors, itís
sometimes to late). The detection chamber gets clogged with dust & other
airborne debris. In addition, as detectors age the sensitivity settings
tend to drift toward being more sensitive causing more false alarms and people
tend to disconnect the power supply on those detectors. 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 old. The fact that some older detectors were made to be more
sensitive also resulted in their disconnection from power.
Always replace your detectors whenever any of the following occur.
* The detector fails to respond to the monthly test and it has power.
* The detector has gotten wet, been painted, or has other physical damage.
* The detector has been exposed to a fire or large amounts of grease
* The detector causes several false alarms without apparent cause.
When you move into a used home, you have no way of knowing how old the detectors are.
B SafeóB SureóB4U Close. Replace them when you move in.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors
Carbon Monoxide kills silently and sneakily. It is a colorless, odorless gas
that is a byproduct of fossil fuel burning. It can be generated by wood stoves,
fireplaces, appliances that use natural gas, propane or oil such as furnaces,
space heaters, dryers, kitchen ranges, or other open flame appliances. Normally
the gases generated by burning are vented safely outside the house, however
blocked vents or not enough oxygen to the burners can quickly cause elevated
levels of CO.
The best defense is a good offense.
* Check your fireplaces & wood stoves for closed or blocked flues.
* Have a qualified chimney sweep (find one at www.csia.org) inspect chimneys
and vents yearly for cracks, blockages (e.g., bird's nests, twigs, old
mortar), corrosion or holes.
* If you want to enclose a furnace or water heater in a smaller room make sure
there is plenty of combustion air available.
* Have a Heating & Air Conditioning contractor check your fuel burning
appliances, before cold weather sets in. Make sure they are in working
* If you have a downdraft cooktop, such as a Jenn-Aire, or a powerful kitchen
ventilation fan over the stove, make sure make sure it doesnít pull fumes
back down your wood stove flue or chimney.
* Donít use gas or propane cooking stoves or ovens to heat your home.
* Donít use barbecue grills inside the garage or house. Not even charcoal
* Open your garage door before starting the car in the garage. Back the car
out of the garage right away and close the door. Not doing so can draw fumes
into the house. Nor should you use a remote starter if the car is in the
* Donít run gasoline engines in a garage or house.
* Donít use a kerosene fueled space heater in a garage or house. If you
absolutely have to, make sure there is plenty of ventilation and combustion
air by opening windows or doors. When you have to put more fuel in the
heater, cool it down first and take it outside to refuel.
* Clean the ductwork for the gas clothes dryer regularly. Also check it for
blockage by snow, plants or lint.
CO is sneaky. CO hurts you by rapidly accumulating in the blood stream which
depletes the bloods ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Even at low
levels, carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems.
Some of the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of the flu, i.e.
headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizzy spells, etc. If you may have been exposed to
CO and feel like the flu bug bit you, you should also ask your doctor to check
you for CO poisoning.
Battery powered and electrically connected CO detectors are available that
can detect CO at levels as low as .01 percent.
Follow the manufacturerís recommendations in placing & testing CO detectors.
They are generally placed near sleeping areas and the homeís furnace.
Most manufacturers recommend testing CO Detectors weekly and replacing them
every five years. Just like smoke detectors, they wear out and fail.
How Should You Respond to a CO Alarm?
* DO NOT IGNORE the CO Detectorís alarm if it sounds. CO Detectors should
sound an alarm before a healthy adult feels any effects from CO. Treat each
* Get everyone, including pets, out of the house. Count heads to make sure
everyone is out.
* If flu like symptoms are present, call 911. If there are no health problems
call your heating contractor, gas company or fire department to have your
* DO NOT ventilate your home, reset the CO detector, or turn off fuel burning
appliances unless it is an apartment, duplex or other multifamily type home.
If it is, the safety of your neighbors is more important than finding the CO
source. (Many CO alarms have been designated false alarms because the
homeowner ventilated the home and turned off the fuel burning equipment
before the source could be traced.)
* DO NOT go back in the home until the testing technician tells you that it is
safe to do so.
If you need a CO Detector and you have it, youíll be glad you had it.
If you need a CO Detector and donít have it, you may never know the difference,
but your relatives will!
Neither one extinguisher nor one type of extinguisher is adequate to protect
your home. In a three bedroom home with a basement and a garage, I recommend
that you have at least four extinguishers.
1. One Class B extinguisher (meant for grease, gas & other flammable liquids)
in the kitchen. Donít keep it to close to the stove. You donít want to
reach into a fire to get the extinguisher.
2. One Class A extinguisher (meant for wood, cloth, paper, plastics, etc) in
3. One Class A extinguisher near the bedrooms.
4. One Class A extinguisher in the basement.
Only try to fight minor blazes. If it becomes a serious fire, GET OUT!
Call 911 from a neighborís house.
Fire Escape Plan
1. Draw your homes floor plan being sure to include all doors and windows.
2. Determine at least two exits from every room.
3. Make sure every person living in the home is familiar with the fire escape
4. Designate a meeting place outside the house so you can easily determine that
everybody made it out. (Some mommies, daddies & firefighters have been
seriously injured or killed trying to get back in to a house to get a child
who was already out of the house.)
5. Place fire ladders in rooms that are to far above ground to jump.
6. Practice your fire escape plan at least once a year.
B SafeóB SureóB4U Close. Plan for your familyís fire safety.
This information is my opinion based on my research and education. It is
provided for general information purposes only. Any actions you take based on
this information is your responsibility. I suggest that you consult a
specialist in the particular field to determine the best practices in your
Find your Home Inspector at:
About the author:
Erby Crofutt owns B4U Close Home Inspections (WWW.B4UClose.com ) in Georgetown,
KY, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Real Estate
Inspection Association. (KREIA). He conducts Home Inspections in Central,
Northern, and Eastern Kentucky. He can be reached by phone at 502-570-4054,
by mail at B4U Close Home Inspections, 104 Lawson Drive, Suite 103-400, Georgetown,
KY or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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