Residential fires and smoke alarms: What you need to know

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Jun 13, 2013

!http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef01901d586894970b-320wi|src=http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef01901d586894970b-320wi|alt=Smoke alarm|style=margin: 0px 0px 5px 5px;|title=Smoke alarm|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef01901d586894970b!During a presentation at the 2013 NFPA Conference and Expo in Chicago, Ron Farr, lead regulatory engineer for UL, emphasized the need to consider smoke alarms as a vital component of life safety; together with fire sprinklers and home escape plans.

Mr. Farr discussed the characteristics of new home construction and several UL studies, emphasizing the importance of having the “right” smoke alarm to provide early warning. Mr. Farr said; “Alerting people to the fire and giving them enough time to escape become important. It is an educational issue…homeowners need to be aware of the dangers and the importance of maintaining smoke alarms.” 


Codes and standards of smoke alarms

UL 217 is the listing standard for smoke alarms and is in the process of being revised in response to new technology. UL 268 is the listing standard for smoke detectors.

[NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code | http://www.nfpa.org/aboutthecodes/AboutTheCodes.asp?DocNum=72] covers “the application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems” and other detection and signaling components; including home smoke alarms.


Smoke alarm technology

Mr. Farr discussed the two types of smoke alarm technology:

    • Photoelectric, most effective in sensing large and lighter colored smoke particles associated with smoldering fires that operate by the scattering or obscuration of light caused by smoke particulates.

    • Ionization: Most effective in sensing small (invisible) smoke particles associated with flaming fires that operate by monitoring a small current created by ionized air between electrically charged plates.

The types of smoke alarms/detectors available in today’s market:

    1. Ionization

    2. Photoelectric

    3. Dual chamber – Ionization/photoelectric

    4. Other Combination – Ionization/carbon monoxide

    5. Other Combination – Photoelectric/carbon monoxide

    6. Hearing impaired alarms

    7. Wireless interconnected alarms

    8. Heat detectors

    9. Carbon monoxide

He provided the results of a UL research project involving two structures: a one story, eight room 1,200 sq. ft. home; and a two story, open floor plan, 3,200 sq. ft. home. Several fire scenarios were used to test smoke alarm response as follows:

    1. Kitchen fires - toast, bacon, coffee maker

    2. Living room fires - heating elements and open flame/candle on sofa/chair

    3. Bedroom fires – heating element on mattress, pillow

The tests underscored the value of sleeping with the bedroom door closed to keep out fire and smoke.

Finally, he indicated that the tests revealed results similar to conclusions drawn by task forces in California, Ohio and Maryland; “that multiple alarms with multiple technologies work best to provide early warning in the majority of situations.”


Visit the NFPA conference blogfor additional information and to download the presentation.</p>