March 1, 2018
SMOKE ALARMS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Timothy S. Carey, Esq.
On or before January 1st of this year, all residential dwellings in Maryland were required to be in compliance with the laws adopted by the Maryland General Assembly in 2013 concerning the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms (a single or multiple station device that detects visible or invisible products of combustion and includes a built-in internal alarm signal) or smoke detectors (a system-connected smoke sensing device tied to a fire alarm control panel or a household fire warning panel) in residential dwellings. The law establishes rules which set forth the types of smoke detectors permitted, the location of where the smoke alarms must be installed within your home, and what, if any, upgrades may be necessary to your current smoke alarms(s) based on the age of the dwelling. The new rules specifically apply to the interior of homes and not to any common areas for homeowners’ associations or common elements in a condominium, therefore, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure compliance and not the Community Association or Condominium. However, if the Community Association or Condominium owns a dwelling, then the Community Association or Condominium must ensure any dwellings it owns comply with the rules. Given the health and safety importance of the new rules, we felt it important to provide this information to our communities, and; further, we recommend advising all owners of their obligations at your next meeting or in a newsletter to the Community. Be advised, however, that the County in which your Community is located may also have adopted its own requirements with respect to smoke alarms and those should be reviewed as well.
The rules apply to all dwellings, but when the property was constructed will affect what changes or additions need to be made. Smoke detector laws have become more stringent over the decades, so older properties will have additional requirements. Please see the below general rules for each age-class:
The rules went into effect in July 1, 2013, with a five (5) year phase-in. Accordingly, every dwelling constructed since that time should already be in compliance with the rules. Specifically, every smoke alarm installed in a newly constructed home on or after July 1, 2013, is required to be wired to the home’s power source (“AC powered”), with a battery or other approved secondary power source, or be installed as part of an approved household fire alarm system. One smoke alarm is required to be installed in each sleeping room, in the hallway or common area outside of sleeping rooms, and at least one on each level of the home, including basements but excepting garages, unoccupied attics, and crawl spaces. Where there are two or more required smoke alarms, the alarms must be arranged so that activation of one unit causes the others to activate.
Properties Constructed Prior to July 1, 1975:
The rules only required that a smoke alarm be outside each sleeping area, and they could be battery or AC powered. Under the new law, smoke alarms must be placed inside each sleeping area, and there must be a minimum of one smoke alarm on each level of the dwelling including basements but excluding unoccupied attics, garages, and crawl spaces. Smoke alarms can be either battery powered, or AC powered with a battery backup. However, if a battery-operated smoke alarm is used, then it must be sealed, tamper resistant and incorporate a silence/hush button, and further, it must use a long-life battery. Please note, it is never acceptable to replace an AC powered device with a battery powered device. It is, however, acceptable to replace a battery powered device with another battery powered smoke alarm or an AC powered smoke alarm, and it is acceptable to place a battery-operated unit where a smoke detector was not previously required under the old statutes; provided that, it complies with the requirements for a battery-operated smoke detector as noted above.
Properties Constructed Between July 1, 1975 and June 30, 1990:
For properties constructed between these dates, an AC powered smoke-alarm was already required by the old statutes, although those did not require a battery backup. Accordingly, all smoke alarms must be replaced with an AC powered, battery backup unit. Further, the new law now requires a smoke alarm to be installed in each sleeping area as well as in each level of the dwelling including basements but excluding unoccupied attics, garages, and crawl spaces. If the new law requires installation of a smoke alarm in a location where one did not previously exist, the smoke alarm may be battery operated; provided that, it is sealed, tamper resistant and incorporates a silence/hush button, and further, it must use a long-life battery.
Additional Requirement for Homes Constructed After January 1, 1989:
Homes constructed after January 1, 1989, must comply with both, the new rules applicable to homes constructed between July 1, 1975 and June 30, 1990 described above, and the rule applicable to just homes constructed after that date. Specifically, the new law states that if there are two or more smoke alarms in a dwelling constructed after January 1, 1989, then those alarms must be arranged so that activation of one activates all of the other alarms within the dwelling. Furthermore, there must at least one smoke alarm installed on each level of a residential occupancy including basements, but excepting garages, unoccupied attics, and crawl spaces.
Properties Constructed After July 1, 1990:
Finally, for properties constructed on or after July 1, 1990, all smoke alarms shall be AC powered with a battery backup and shall be located in each sleeping area as well as in each level of the dwelling including basements but excluding unoccupied attics, garages, and crawl spaces. Further, if any smoke alarm is installed in a location where one did not previously exist, the smoke alarm may be battery operated; provided that, it is sealed, tamper resistant and incorporates a silence/hush button, and further, it must use a long-life battery.
The future replacement of a fire alarm which is installed in accordance with the new laws should be accomplished in accordance with the manufacturers recommendations. Further, if your home is equipped with a smoke detector system, you should review the law to determine your obligations to upgrade your system.
In addition to complying with the new rules, homeowners must also disclose information regarding the smoke alarm in the home when entering into a contract of sale with a buyer. Specifically, a homeowner must state whether the smoke alarm will sound an alarm in the event of a power outage, if the smoke alarms(s) are more than ten (10) years old, and, if there are battery operated smoke alarms(s), whether they are sealed, tamper resistant units incorporating a silence/hush button and use a long-life battery as required by the law. The required disclosures are set forth on the Maryland Residential Property Disclosure and Disclaimer Statement which is provided by the realtor. Accordingly, we recommend ensuring the smoke alarms in your home or a home you are interested in purchasing comply with the new law before entering into a contract of sale.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding the new smoke detector laws and their effect on your community.