Massachusetts law is rather strict with regard to smoke and carbon monoxide detector regulations. The law requires the inspection of residential property at the time of a sale by the local fire department to certify the presence of operational smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Every homeowner in Massachusetts is required to provide the new owner with working detectors when the property transfers and to have this verified by the local fire department. There is a fee that the homeowner must pay and it is dependent upon the city or town in which the Fire Department is in. Typical fees are between $25 and $100. A property may not change hands without written verification by the Fire Department.
The Massachusetts smoke detector laws were last modified in 2010. The new regulations specify the requirements for the type of detector, locations for installation based on the type of device and the date of construction of the property. Single and 2-family properties built after 1975 require compliance with the State Building Code while those built before 1975 have a differing set of requirements.
There are two types of technologies used in smoke detectors: photo-electric and ionization. Photo-electric detectors emit a beam of light. When smoke crosses this beam of light, light is scattered by the smoke particles which causes the alarm to sound. These detectors are more responsive to smoke and smoldering fires. They are less likely to have false alarms from steam (bathrooms) or cooking. Ionization detectors are radiation based and have a constant current running between two electrodes. When smoke is present, the current becomes blocked and the alarm sounds. Ionization detectors are more responsive in detecting flaming fires and are unable to differentiate between smoke and steam which could lead to false alarms when near bathrooms and kitchens. Detectors may contain both of these technologies and may be hard-wired or battery powered.
Homes Built After 1975
Massachusetts Building Code requires newly constructed single and two-family dwellings and new additions (especially those with bedrooms) to be built with hard-wired, interconnected smoke detectors with battery backups. Interconnected detectors mean that when one detector alarm is activated, every detector in the home activates as well. Detectors must be installed:
- On every level of the home
- At the base of all stairwells
- Outside bedrooms
- Inside each bedroom or sleeping area
Homes Built Before 1975
Homes built before 1975 must follow laws of the Commonwealth. The smoke detectors may be battery powered, hard-wired or a combination of the two. For single and two-family residences built before 1975, detectors must be installed as follows:
- On every habitable level of the home
- On the ceiling at the base of every stairway
- On the ceiling outside each separate sleeping area
If the smoke detector is located within 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom that contains a shower or bathtub, the detector MUST be photo-electric. If the detector is beyond 20 feet of the kitchen or bathroom with a shower or tub, the detector must either be a dual detector utilizing both technologies or there must be two detectors present – one of each type.
Some important tips:
- Smoke detectors cannot be more than 10 years old. The Fire Department may check the age and fail the inspection if the detectors are within a year of needing replacement.
- Obtain clarification from the local Fire Department if there is any question about placement or type of detectors. They are often very willing and happy to help.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Massachusetts adopted “Nicole’s Law” in 2006 to enforce the need for carbon monoxide detectors in residential buildings. Carbon monoxide detectors are required:
- In housing where “fossil fuels” (oil, gas, coal and wood) are burned
- In dwellings with enclosed garages
- When equipment that burns “fossil fuels” is present – including: heating systems, hot water heaters, dryers, fireplaces and wood stoves
- On each finished level of the residence
- To be located within 10 feet of each bedroom door
Carbon monoxide detectors do not need to be hard-wired and may be plug-in or battery operated. Combination detectors (photo-electric smoke and carbon monoxide) may be used within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom with shower and bathtub. Combination detectors (ionization smoke and carbon monoxide) may be used if the the detector is outside of 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom with shower and bathtub. Combination detectors are required to have both an alarm and a voice alarm to distinguish the type of emergency. Carbon monoxide detectors have a life usage of 7 years. The Fire Department may not pass your inspection if the detector is close to or over 7 years old.
As a home seller, it is important to plan for your smoke detector inspection when you list your home. The inspection can take some time to schedule, depending on how busy the Fire Department is. If you fail the inspection, having a re-inspection can cause the closing to be delayed and the inspection fee to be charged again. The inspection certificate is good for 60 days, so the inspection should be planned appropriately to coincide with the closing date.