Clocks change this week. You know, that “spring ahead, fall back” thing. Make this your reminder to check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. It could save your life.

If the battery has failed on your smoke or CO detector, it will not work if you have a fire or there is CO in your house. This is true for both owners and renters.

Chances are, you will hear your detector chirp as the battery dies. But, if you were away for the few days that the chirp happened, you might miss it. Take a minute to check. All you need to do is to press the test button, hear the alarm, and walk away secure. Do it every six months. It won’t kill you, literally.

Smoke detectors and the law

As of December 1, 2016, all houses built before 1975 will need to be equipped with 10-year smoke detectors. The new detectors are sealed, with 10-year batteries. When the battery squeaks, it is time to replace the whole unit.

The 2016 law requires that smoke detectors be replaced every 10 years. The old law had no age limit, so old detectors would stay up forever. Some of them would fail because they were very old. The hope is that these 10-year detectors are easier to maintain, and the law also requires that they be replaced every 10 years with current technology.

Why did Massachusetts change their rules?

People die when their smoke detectors are too old to work or have their batteries removed. Therefore, the state requires smoke detectors that do not have removable batteries. When the battery dies (in 10 years), a new detector is needed (and it will be to the current standards).

These are both good ideas. It is a common thing for people to pull the battery out of the old style smoke detector when they burn the toast. If they forget to put the battery back in, they are in danger, if the detector is needed for a real fire.

The new detectors have a sealed battery. Some have a “hush” button, so you can hit that to silence it. If there is no hush button, fan the detector. You can take it down and put it in an annoying place; that way, you’ll remember to put it back up. If you have wired detectors without a hush button, fanning is your only option. (Be more careful with your toast.)

smoke detector

Equipment cost: A 10-year, sealed battery smoke detector sells for around $15-25. The kind that uses replaceable batteries sells for around $14. When you add the cost of batteries, the 10-year use units won’t cost much more.



What the smoke detector law means to buyers:

When you close, the seller must bring a certificate from the fire department that says you have CO and smoke detectors in good working order in all the required places in the home.

You, as the new owner, are obligated by law to replace your smoke detectors every 10 years. Your 10-year detectors will squeak at you when they are ready to be replaced. But, if the battery is still going at 10 years, you still need to get a new one.

Your “to do” list for home maintenance should include these things:

  1. Write the date of installation of new 10-year detectors on the detector. (I use a sharpie pen and write it on the ceiling-side of the detector). That way, you know when its life is over, even if it doesn’t squeak.
  2. Test your detectors twice a year, when the clocks change. Push the button, hear the alarm. Take it down, check the date, put it back.
  3. If your detector squeaks, remove it from the ceiling. There is a deactivate switch. Turn it off and do not put it back up. Go get a new one, now.

If you really can’t go now, put the broken detector in a place where you will see it when you go out next. Get a new one the next time you go out. Don’t forget! Make it a priority.

What this means to sellers:

Chances are, you or your agent will be replacing all your smoke detectors before you close. Follow these guidelines to be ready to pass that inspection.