Check Those Smoke Detectors: New Massachusetts Smoke Detector Regulations Go Into Effect April 5, 2010

by Rich Vetstein on December 15, 2009

in Massachusetts Real Estate Law

Whenever a home is sold in Massachusetts, the smoke detector law requires that the local fire department issue a certification that the smoke detectors are working properly and are in the correct location. The  new smoke detector regulations go into effect on April 5, 2010. The new regulations require that certain properties be equipped with the latest photoelectric smoke detectors which are not as prone to false alarms as older ionization based detectors.

Detectors Must Have New Photoelectric Technology (Except Near Kitchen or Bathroom)

Currently, there are two primary detection methods used in modern smoke detectors: photoelectric and ionization. Ionization detectors are often faster to alert than photoelectric detectors. But they are prone to false alarms such as when steam from a shower or other source interrupts the current. Photoelectric detectors emit a beam of light. They are less sensitive to false alarms from steam or cooking fumes but can take longer than ionization detectors to alert.

Since the introduction of detectors using the photoelectric technology, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether to require property owners to replace their ionization detectors with photoelectric detectors. Fire departments generally favor the new photoelectric technology. The new regulations were enacted to resolve this ongoing debate.

Under the new regulations, a smoke detector utilizing both technologies is required in all living levels and the basement, except within 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom containing a bathtub or shower. Compliance can be achieved by installing two separate detectors using these technologies, or by installing one detector which uses both technologies. For the area within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom containing a bathtub or shower, a photoelectric smoke detector alone is mandated. An ionization detector is prohibited in these places due to their tendency to be set off by steam.

Who Must Comply?

The new regulations will apply to all single family homes sold on or after January 1, 2010. If you are not selling your home, you don’t need the new smoke detectors, but it’s a good idea for safety reasons. The new rules will also apply to all apartment buildings sold or transferred after January 1, 2010, which are less than 70 feet tall, have less than six units, or have not been substantially altered since January 1, 1975. Larger apartment buildings or those that were substantially altered since January, 1975 were already required to upgrade their fire safety systems under other existing laws.

If you question whether your property is in compliance, your best bet is to contact your local fire department.

Here’s a great Guide to the smoke detector law put out by the Department of Fire Services. A very informative bulletin from the Boston Fire Department can be downloaded here.

Also remember that under “Nicole’s Law,” carbon monoxide detectors are required for homes using fossil fuels.

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