The Importance of Working Smoke Detectors in Today’s Homes

It seems that in most American homes today, people are far more aware of the snacks they have in the pantry than they are about whether their smoke detectors are working. With this in mind, it is far more likely that your tenants have a much better idea of how old those Twinkies in the cupboard are than how long the batteries in the smoke detector should last.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), the presence of working smoke detectors in a home can reduce the chances of someone dying in a home fire by as much as 50 percent. In fact, smoke detectors and their proper use have been found to be responsible for the significant decrease in fire-related deaths over the past three decades.

Fires are Moving Faster than Ever

The simple fact is that due in part to the design of modern homes and the materials being used in their construction has led to a situation in which homes reach flashover or fully engulfed in shorter periods of time. According to a report issued by Underwriters Laboratory, today’s home reaches this point 8 times more quickly than homes built 50 years ago. This same study showed that it takes approximately 3 minutes for a home fire to go from start to out of control. This doesn’t give families much time to get out of their home.

There are several reasons why fires tend to spread more quickly now than they did 50 years ago. One of the biggest reasons is the use of more petroleum-based materials instead of wood and other natural materials due to cost. Along with this, most furniture today is made using synthetic fabrics and polyurethane foam padding instead of down filling and cotton, wool, silk, or linen.

Underwriters Laboratories experts say that these synthetic materials add to the fire loads within a home and make it much easier for a fire to spread even more quickly. Fires fueled by these materials not only spread more quickly but also burn hotter and create more smoke than most natural materials.

Smoke Detectors are Getting Better

While the smoke detectors in use today are far superior to those available 40 years ago, researchers are continuously working to make them even better. They are looking at the different types of fires and the smoke they produce in an attempt to make the next generation of smoke detectors more accurate and effective.

For example, just a few years ago a physicist working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory created new smoke detector technology designed to be able to differentiate between smoke from a real fire and nuisance smoke such as that produced when cooking. Research shows that nuisance smoke is the most common reason why so many people disconnect their smoke detectors.

As a property manager or landlord, it is your job to educate your tenants about the proper use of the smoke detectors in their home. This includes testing them monthly and replacing the battery annually. At the same time, it is your responsibility to replace the smoke detectors in your rental units at least every ten years to ensure they have the latest technology and that they won’t fail when they are needed the most.