New Jersey home inspectors should be familiar with the different types of smoke detectors on the market their preferred placement and proper operation. It is true NJ home inspectors do not perform fire inspections. Fire inspections are typically left to the municipality however it is important to understand the different types of smoke detectors and their best placement so you can educate your clients and answer any questions regarding smoke detectors that they may have.
There are two basic types of smoke detectors on the market each has benefits and shortcomings. The two smoke detectors that inspectors and homeowners will encounter are ionization and photoelectric.
Ionization smoke detectors use ionized particles to alert to the existence of smoke in the home. Ionization is the process by which an atom or molecule acquires negative or positive energy by gaining or loosing electrons. An ionization smoke detector holds a minute amount of radioactive material that is located in-between two plates which have electrical current running through them. The air in-between the two plates is ionized which creates an electrical current between the two plates. When smoke migrates into the ionization smoke detector the current in between the two metal plates is disrupted. Once the current is disrupted the alarm will sound. This type of detector works well with active flaming fires. Fast moving fires create many small particles which the ionization smoke detector will pick up well. These detectors work very well with an aggressive fire but not as well with a smoldering type of fire.
The second type of smoke detector found in homes is a photoelectric smoke detector. This type of detector uses a light source to detect the existence of smoke. Once smoke enters the detector the smoke particle blocks the light which in turn trips the alarm. This type of detector is more efficient at sounding when there are smoldering type fires in a home. Photoelectric detectors are better at early detection.
NJ home inspectors should recommend combination smoke detectors for their home inspection clients. The National Fire Protection Agency recommends that homes have combination detectors. these are smoke detectors that use both ionization and photoelectric in combination. You never know what type of fire will occur a quick flaming fire or a smoldering fire. It is advantageous to have smoke detectors that can detect and protect against both type of fires.
A smoke detector should be installed on each level of the home including the basement. The smoke detector should be a 10-year sealed unit that is battery powered. A level is typically defined as a floor separated by three or more steps from another floor. In the basement the smoke detector should be located at the bottom of the set of steps. In addition, smoke detectors should be installed in every sleeping area and within ten feet of each bedroom door. Smoke detectors should also be installed in any finished attic areas as well. Homeowners should defer to their local municipality or their state requirements for smoke detector placement. the above recommendations are just a general rule of thumb. Different jurisdictions may have different requirements for smoke detector placement.
A discussion of smoke detectors is not complete is we don't mention carbon monoxide detectors. As we know carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is one of the products of combustion from fuel burning appliances. These alarms are designed to worn the homes occupants of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide build up in the home. High carbon monoxide can build up in a home caused by improperly maintained fuel burning appliances. Venting problems are often the cause of carbon monoxide build up in a home. A carbon monoxide detector should be installed in the hallway close to all sleeping areas in the home.
The consumer Products Safety Commission recommends that every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector. The CPSC also recommends that homeowners have professional inspections of all fuel burning appliances which include furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, dryers, water heaters and wall heaters.
Although NJ Home inspectors are not required to report on the presence and location of smoke detectors it is beneficial that they have a working understanding of the types of smoke detectors available on the market and proper placement of those detectors. New Jersey Home inspection clients sometimes have questions regarding smoke detectors and home inspectors should be able to answer those questions.