Palo Alto to consider smoke-alarm requirement

Proposal would mandate photoelectric alarms for builders, renters, renovators

Palo Alto could tonight become the second California city to require builders, landlords and homeowners working on construction projects to install photoelectric smoke alarms.

The City Council is scheduled to consider whether to change the city's fire code to require photoelectric smoke alarms, which rely on beams of light for activation. The traditional ionization alarms rely on disturbances in electric currents to detect smoke.

Acting Fire Marshall Gordon Simpkinson wrote in a report that ionization alarms take 15 minutes longer to respond to smoldering fires than photoelectric ones. This leaves house occupants "insufficient time for safe escape."

He also wrote that many residents disable their ionization alarms because of "nuisance alarms," such as smoke from cooking. He cited estimates from the National Fire Protection Association suggesting that more than 1,000 deaths nationwide could be prevented by switching the alarm type.

"The requirement of photoelectric alarms will cause earlier detection of smoldering fires, affording occupants a greater chance to safely escape and provide early notification to the Fire Department," Simpkinson wrote.

Albany is currently the only California city that requires photoelectric alarms in homes that are changing ownership, rented out or undergoing construction.

In Palo Alto, proposed requirements would apply to any home where more than $1,000 in construction is taking place and where a building permit is required. It would also apply to rental housing and to homes that are undergoing a change of title.

Existing owner-occupied homes and condominiums would not be required to install photoelectric alarms, the report states, though the Fire Department encourages them to do so.

The council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., or as soon as possible after the council's joint session with the Library Advisory Commission.


Like this comment
Posted by ah
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm

How much do these cost?

Like this comment
Posted by And they're LOUD
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm

ah: From $10 up, depending on whether you want a bare-bones smoke detector, or a device which detects carbon monoxide, natural gas, and possibly other hazards.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Nov 8, 2010 at 10:10 pm

A higher-end hard-wired ionization smoke alarm costs $20 at Ace Hardware. The photoelectric smoke alarm costs $22. A smoke alarm that has both types of detection costs about $42.

These alarms are cheaper direct from the manufacturer ($5-10 less). More important than anything else is that you replace the battery at least once every year...the alarms themselves should be replaced after 8-10 years according to the US Fire Administration.

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