Over the last decade, there have been more options and sophisticated offerings of safety devices on the market to protect us in our homes and businesses. Despite what follows, the most important thing is that you have working smoke alarms in your home! 

In all homes and apartments it is recommended that a smoke alarm be placed in each bedroom, in the hall leading to the bedrooms and at least one smoke alarm on each level. This has been required for about 15 years in newly constructed homes and apartments. Prior to that, many homes only had one smoke alarm in the hallway. My house was built in the late ’80s, and it only had one electric-powered smoke alarm in the hall. I have since added battery operated smoke alarms in each bedroom and replaced the electric-only smoke alarm with an electric with battery backup. Since there has been no retroactive code requirement for the placement of smoke alarms, many homes still only have one smoke alarm. 

In 2001, an Oregon law required a change of the existing smoke alarms when the residence changed hands. This included the sale of a property or a transfer of tenancy. This law required that ionization smoke alarms be upgraded to include a hush feature. The intent was to allow people to silence their smoke alarm without removing the battery. Within about 18 months, all rental properties were required to have these in place.

There are two technologies used in smoke alarms: ionization and photoelectric. Ionization smoke alarms are what we have seen for years in homes, but research a few years ago showed that ionization smoke alarms respond faster to smoke produced by flaming fires than their counterpart. Photoelectric smoke alarms respond faster to the smoke produced by a smoldering fire.

Since we cannot predict how a fire is going to burn in our home, the National Fire Protection Association and US Fire Administration recommend that both technologies are used in the home. You could install both types of alarms near each other or install a dual technology smoke alarm in order to have the best smoke detection possible. Since smoke rises, smoke alarms should always be installed on the ceiling or high on the wall. 

In 2009, Oregon passed a law requiring carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in homes when a CO source is present. Again, these laws were applicable to new construction and when property was transferred either in a sale or tenancy. CO is an odorless gas present when incomplete combustion occurs or an appliance is not vented properly.

So what are CO sources? CO sources include natural gas, propane and fuel oil appliances, wood or pellet stoves and fireplaces, and a garage with a door that opens into the house. We recommend that if you have a CO source in your home that you install CO alarms on each level of your home and within 15 feet of each bedroom. CO is almost the same weight as air, so you will find that CO alarms can be installed at either the ceiling level or lower levels. CO alarms can be purchased separately or you can find a combination smoke and CO alarm. 

Remember to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific installation instructions for all safety devices. 

The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information, appears triweekly in the Tidings. Margueritte Hickman is a division chief/fire marshal with Ashland Fire & Rescue. Email topic suggestions to her at margueritte.hickman@ashland.or.us.