It turns out that hardwiring of smoke detectors in the average home has been around since the 70’s. It seems to have made it’s ‘requirement’ appearance in the electrical code in the 90s. It also appears that the 1994 code mandated smoke alarms inside each bedroom. The requirement for new home construction to make the smoke alarms interconnected also comes around this time.
There is some heated forum discussions on just when and under what circumstances homes need to update to hardwired and interconnected smoke alarms if they aren’t already installed. Watching people reason out different definitions of the same sentence of code is interesting and explains a lot about why this contractor tells you one thing and the other contractor tells you something else.
SOP for Home Inspectors
Most of the info I could find on smoke alarm requirements concentrated on the 2006 and 2009 IRC requirements and how that affects new construction and ‘permit required’ work or remodeling. And as much as I enjoyed learning more about smoke alarm requirements, code and history none of it really means anything when it comes to inspecting our clients home. What does matter is the SOP for home inspectors in the state of Texas today.
Those requirements for what we NEED TO DO is very plain and hard to misunderstand, they are:
- 535.229 (b) (3) the inspector shall report:
- (E) deficiencies in:
- (vi) smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
- (H) the absence of smoke alarms:
- (i) in each sleeping room;
- (ii) outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping rooms; and
- (iii) in the living space of each story of the dwelling
The inspector shall report deficiencies in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms – this means that when we test the installed alarms, by pushing their ‘test’ button, on the day of inspection is has to perform as designed. This means thinking to ourselves, yet again, that we really should get those ear plugs we keep meaning to get before we test another home’s smoke alarms. It means writing up the alarms that do not work, it means writing up alarms that only kind of work, it means writing up alarms that only work intermittently, it means writing up broken or dismantled alarms and alarms that are no longer there. It means writing up any deficiencies (audible, visible or missing) in the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms installed in the home.
Smoke Alarms/Detectors in Every Bedroom
The inspector shall report the absence of smoke alarms, in each sleeping room, outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping rooms and in the living space of each story of the dwelling – this means also checking each bedroom for a smoke alarm, testing it and reporting any ‘deficiencies’ we find like those listed above (including bedrooms that never had smoke alarms), making sure there is a smoke alarm on each floor of that 2 story home or 3 story condo and that it performs properly when tested.
It means simply making sure that there are smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in all the required areas per the SOP and that those alarms function (perform) properly when tested on inspection day.
But what about all that debate I was reading about on the building code forum about when smoke alarms need to be hardwired and interconnected? Our SOP says:
- 535.229 (b) (4) The inspector is not required to:
- (C) verify effectiveness of smoke alarms
- (D) verify interconnectivity of smoke alarms
- (E) activate smoke or carbon monoxide alarms that are or may be monitored OR require use of codes
TREC doesn’t allow home inspectors to play with matches so we can not light pilot lights, light a gas fireplace, use a match to check for gas leaks or build a small fire to test the smoke alarms effectiveness, so we are limited to the test button. When we test our first alarm in a home and all the others go off too we have a good idea that they may just be interconnected, but the SOP doesn’t require us to jump to that conclusion. And if we think there is a possibility that the police and fire trucks will show up at the home if we test the smoke alarms we are allowed to pass (noting in the report WHY we didn’t test them of course).
So the testing of the smoke alarms/detectors is pretty simple and straightforward. Are the smoke alarms/detectors located in the appropriate locations to detect a fire (the smoke from the fire) at the earliest possible time giving as much notice to the residents as possible to get out safely? Did all the smoke alarms/detectors appear to function (perform) as designed when tested? These are THE questions that the SOP wants us to be able to answer with a ‘YES’ and if we can’t answer YES to either of these questions then document WHY? And recommend corrective action.