Massachusetts Smoke Detector Laws
If you are selling a home in Massachusetts one of the things you are going to need to know about is the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors laws! The first thing I do when interviewing with a perspective home seller is explain how the laws work.
One of the requirements of every home owner in Massachusetts when selling a property is to provide the new owner with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The local fire department in which the home is located is responsible for conducting the inspection. Massachusetts is one of the strictest states in terms of fire safety as has had their smoke detector law in place for decades to prevent unnecessary deaths. A property can not change hands without a certification done by the local fire Marshall.
It makes sense that when you interviewing with a home seller for the chance to represent them in the sale of probably their largest asset you would want them to understand how these laws work in relation to selling a home. The Massachusetts smoke and carbon monoxide detector laws are vital to understand along with the Massachusetts Title V Septic law if the home isn’t hooked up to public sewer.
The Massachusetts smoke detector laws were modified on April 5, 2010. The new regulations relating to the installation and maintenance of certain smoke detectors was put in place. Staying up to speed on changes in these laws like is vital for landlords, home owners and Realtors alike.
It goes without saying that it is imperative that home owners ensure that their properties comply with the smoke and carbon monoxide detector laws, both from a public safety and liability stand point. The new modification to these laws are discussed below in detail. From experience I have seen, some towns have their own nuances on what they will and will not allow. It is always prudent to speak to the town fire department where you are located for further clarification.
Two Types Of Smoke Detector Technology
There are two primary detection devices used in today’s smoke detectors. They can be either ionization detectors or photoelectric detectors.
Ionization detectors typically have a constant current running between two electrodes. When smoke hits the device, it blocks the current which causes the alarm to go off.
Ionization detectors are usually faster to sound than photoelectric detectors. The problem with ionization detectors however is that they are unable to differentiate between smoke and steam.
This makes these type of detectors more likely to have false alarms when steam from a shower or other source interrupts the current. This is especially true when the ionization detector is placed near a kitchen or bathroom area.
Photoelectric detectors emit a beam of light. This beam passes in front of the detector in a straight line. When smoke crosses the path of the light beam, some light is scattered by the smoke particles causing it to make the alarm sound. Photoelectric detectors are less sensitive to false alarms from steam or cooking fumes but can take longer than ionization detectors to go off.
Another major concern was that ionization detectors do not offer the best protection against smoldering fires which can be some of the deadliest fires. Photoelectric smoke alarms are more sensitive to smoldering smokey fires. Most of the homes across the country have ionization detectors which are more sensitive to flames.
In 2007, WBZ News in Boston tested both types of these smoke detectors. In a smoky fire the photoelectric detector went off first. The Ionization detector took almost 17 minutes into the fire before the alarm finally went off!
The debate in Massachusetts has been whether to require property owners to replace their ionization detectors with photoelectric detectors.
Home owners have raised concerns about the cost of replacing smoke detectors that still function properly. Fire departments have suggested that the elimination of false alarms outweighs the additional expense that home owners will need to deal with.
New Fire Prevention/Detector Laws
According to the new regulation, owners of certain residential buildings will be required to install and maintain both the ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors.
While the new regulation does not change the locations where smoke detectors are required, it does allow the installation of both technologies in certain locations.
Under the new regulation, an ionization detector can not be placed within 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom containing a shower or a tub. In these locations only a photo electronic detector can be installed.
All property owners should determine what type of smoke detectors they currently have installed. In order to comply with the law you can either install two separate detectors that have both technologies or by installing one that has both.
What Properties Are Impacted By The New Regulations?
In order to determine if your home or condominium is affected by this change in the law it would make sense to check with your local fire department or a local Real Estate attorney who up to speed on the changes in the law. According to to the new amendment the following types of properties are impacted by the new regulations:
- Residential buildings under 70 feet tall and containing less than six dwelling units.
- Residential buildings not substantially altered since January 1, 1975, and containing less than 6 residential units.
- All residential buildings sold or transferred after April 5, 2010, which are less then 70 feet tall, have less than six units, or have not been substantially altered since January 1, 1975.
For all properties in these categories, compliance of the law went into effect April 5, 2010. The law does not apply to these larger buildings or those which were substantially altered since January, 1975, as these properties already were required to upgrade their fire safety systems under previous existing laws.
One other important note regarding smoke detectors: Many towns require hard wired smoke detectors and NOT battery operated. You should make certain you know what the requirement is for the town in which you are located. As a general rule according to the State fire Marshall’s office, the law is as follows:
- Homes built after 1975 are required upon sale or transfer to comply with the State Building Code in effect at the time of construction.
- Homes built before 1975 are required upon sale or transfer to comply with the requirements of MGL c. 148, §26E(A).
In order to provide further clarification, homes built between 1975 and 1998 are required to have hard wired interconnected smoke detectors outside the bedrooms and one detector on each floor at the top of the stairs. The smoke detector at the top of the stairs can be the same detector that is required outside the bedroom.
For homes built after 1998, smoke detectors are required to be interconnected and have a battery backup. Smoke detectors are required in each bedroom, outside the bedroom and at the top of each flight of stairs. A single detector can satisfy multiple location requirements, if it is situated properly. There must also be one smoke detector on each level and one smoke detector for each 1,200 square feet of living space.
These requirements for newer construction also apply to additions and/or renovations where a bedroom is either added or substantially altered. If an addition or renovation involves adding or substantially changing a bedroom, the entire house, including existing bedrooms must be brought up to the present standard according to the Massachusetts State Building Code (780 CMR), regardless of when the original home was built.
Massachusetts Carbon Monoxide Detector Law
If you are selling your home in Massachusetts an additional law that you need to be up to speed on is what’s known as Nicole’s Law. As of March 2006 when a home is sold you need to have functioning carbon monoxide detectors.
Carbon Monoxide detectors are required in any residence that has fossil-fuel burning equipment including, but not limited to, a furnace, boiler, water heater, fireplace or any other apparatus, appliance or device; or has enclosed parking within its structure.
Unfortunately, the law is named for 7-year-old Nicole Garofalo who passed away in January 2005 when a heating vent in her home was blocked by snow drifts, allowing carbon monoxide to build up in the home.
According to the carbon monoxide regulations, you need to have a detector on each finished level of the home. Further there must be a detector placed within ten feet of all the bedroom doors. The detectors do not need to be hard wired. A plug-in or battery operated detector meets the requirements and usually the most viable choice.
Here are all the types are carbon monoxide detectors that are allowed:
• Battery powered with battery monitoring;
• Plug-in (AC powered) units
with battery backup;
• AC primary power (hard-wired
– usually involves hiring an
electrician) with battery backup;
• Low-voltage or wireless alarms
with secondary power; and
• Qualified combination smoke
detectors and CO alarms
The inspection for both the smoke and carbon detectors are done by the local fire department before the closing. I like to schedule the inspection about a month before the closing so that if there are any issues they can be rectified in plenty of time.
The certificate from the fire department is good for two months and will need to be brought to the closing. The lenders attorney will most certainly ask for the compliance certificate and you will not be able to close on your property without it! You should now have a much better understanding of how the smoke and carbon monoxide detector laws work in Massachusetts.
Other Resources for Massachusetts Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector Laws:
- Massachusetts smoke detector alarm regulations via Mass.Gov.
- Massachusetts law regarding the use of carbon monoxide detectors when selling a home by Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries.
Take a look at the additional helpful resources for any unanswered questions you may have concerning the carbon monoxide and smoke detector laws in Massachusetts or feel free to give me a call if you are going to be selling your home.
The above Real Estate information on the Massachusetts Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector Laws was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 27+ Years.
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