There are strict penalties for not following fire safety regulations; and for good reason. These regulations outline the necessary steps that should be taken to provide an early fire warning to mitigate the risks or enable individuals to find escape routes. One of the most essential equipment necessary for keeping homes and offices safe is the smoke detector.
Smoke alarms are a legally required piece of equipment in many States and may be either hardwired or battery operated. No matter the type you install, they serve an almost similar purpose. So, a question arises; do new construction homes come with smoke detectors?
The straight up answer is yes, they do. However, it is important to note that pre-1992 homes mostly have detachable, battery operated smoke detectors. Homes built after 1992 should have smoke detectors hardwired into the house’s structure and have an adequate battery backup. If a house was built before 1992 but has been overhauled (flipped), it must also have a hardwired smoke detection system. Let’s discuss these requirements in more detail.
But Before We Dive Into the Specifics, What Is a Smoke Alarm?
Smoke alarms are the combination of smoke detectors and alarm systems (usually built as one unit). In more advanced systems, if a smoke alarm detects small amounts of smoke, it gives a warning in the form of a loud beep. If, however, it detects a large amount of smoke (like in fires), the alarm goes off immediately.
An adequate smoke alarm system should be tested thoroughly and maintained throughout the unit’s live to ensure proper functionality. A properly functioning smoke alarm system should be able to give you a warning even if someone’s smoking in the same room.
The Different Types of Smoke Alarms
There are two main types of smoke alarms that every homeowner should be familiar with. You can install both of these in your home. Most new construction home crews in the US usually ask homeowners before installing a specific type of smoke alarm, while in the UK, photoelectric smoke alarms are more common.
Many also prefer to go with a combination of the two types since each of these serves its own function.
Ionization Smoke Alarms
These alarm systems detect fast, flaming fires, i.e., raging fires such as if curtains or flammable liquids are on fire. These smoke alarms are better suited for warehouses, garages, or kitchens, i.e., where there are flammable liquids, or you have to work with a fire.
These alarms go off the moment they sense a sudden increase in carbon in the room.
Photoelectric Smoke Alarms
These alarm systems detect slow burning flames, i.e., those flames that are smoldering such as if your bedding, furniture, carpets, or other flammable objects around the house are on fire. These are rather sensitive smoke alarms (so much so that they can also go off when smoking a cigarette!) and are by far the most common type of smoke alarms out there, especially in new construction homes.
These alarms use infrared to determine whether there is a fire or not.
Do New Construction Homes Come with Smoke Detectors?
When building a new construction home, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests that construction workers must install at least one smoke alarm on each floor of the house, even in single-family residences. These smoke detectors must be hardwired into the house and be fully operational by the time owners or tenants move in.
Usually, construction crews install smoke detectors in all rooms, the living room, kitchen, and common areas. Although they must be AC powered, it is essential that the detectors have a battery backup as well.
Remember, new construction homes aren’t required by law to have smoke alarms in every room. If you’re looking for extra coverage in areas such as your storeroom, attic, basement, and more, you are going to have to install the same on your own.
When installing smoke detectors, an important consideration to make is that there is no obstruction in front of your smoke detector that could prevent the smoke from reaching its sensors. For complete coverage of your home, you should consider installing Smoke Alarms on:
- On every level
- Inside every bedroom
- In every hall near sleeping areas. 1 detector for every 40 feet
- At the top of floor stairways
- At the bottom of basement stairways
Smoke Detectors for Mobile Homes
When it comes to mobile homes, it is important to note that they might not be as well insulated as your single-family residences. There is no specific law that asks mobile homes to have smoke detector coverage – just recommendations.
For minimum security, mobile homes should only have smoke detectors on the inside walls, specifically in areas that don’t get too hot; i.e., remain between 40° F and 100° F.
How Many Smoke Alarms Are Enough?
When installing smoke alarms in your dwelling, you might be tempted to install more and more to make sure that your system is reliable. However, the number of smoke alarms don’t usually amount to much when looking for reliability or early warning. Instead, it is the quality of the smoke alarms and their sensors that you should hedge your bets to.
Homeowners should consider using additional smoke alarms only in areas where the smoke could potentially be obstructed. As mentioned above, new construction homes usually only come with smoke detectors in places where the code requires.
In most cases, this isn’t enough. Additional areas where you may want to install more smoke alarms would include:
- Dining room
- Furnace room
- Utility room
- Storage rooms and
We don’t recommend installing additional smoke detectors in kitchens, incomplete attics, or garages.
Taking Care of Smoke Alarms Properly
Smoke alarms are usually maintenance free except the odd checkup you might have to do. These checkups are important to ensure your system remains reliable and can give you a sufficient warning in case of fire.
General instructions to keep in mind when it comes to smoke alarm systems include:
- Make sure the alarms are kept in clean conditions and have no obstructions
- Dust and vacuum the detectors regularly to ensure dust and grime don’t make their way into the system
- Make a reminder in your calendar to check the battery levels every year (with a voltmeter). If you don’t have the tools to measure battery health, replacing the same every year is recommended
- Replace smoke detectors at least every 10 years
- Make sure there are no stickers, paint or other decorations around the smoke detector
Making Sure Your Alarm System Is Operational
New construction homes have pre-installed smoke detectors, yes, but when you enter your new home, one of the first things you should do is to check whether your smoke alarm system is operational or not. By checking, we don’t mean lighting a fire right under each smoke detector.
Remember, just like any other electronic device, smoke alarms can also fail even if your construction contractor installed them correctly. So, it’s not just important to check whether the system is working when you walk in through the door, but also to do the same on a regular basis.
To do that,
- Each smoke detector has a button on its side (or on top). This is the test button. Press it at least once every month to ensure that it is functioning properly. It will highlight any issues, if present, for you to cater to.
- Take a candle and stand right under the detector. Make sure you have a fan in hand. Blow out the candle and let its smoke enter the alarm. It will start beeping to warn you. If it starts beeping within 20 seconds, you’re golden. Fan the smoke away the moment you hear your system beep.
If you find that there is any problem with the smoke detector installed in your new construction home, it is recommended that you immediately get in touch with your builder (or landlord) and get the issue fixed. Because new construction homes do come with smoke detectors and it’s their responsibility to fix them!