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Sunday, April 25, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Home Clinic

Smoke Detectors Required In Each Bedroom

HOME CLINIC: We are wondering if we should include smoke detectors in the new home we are having built. - D.M., Burien

DEAR D.M.: Definitely! Smoke detectors should be a part of any family's safety program.

Since July 1, 1992, the Washington State Uniform Building Code has required smoke detectors in each residential sleeping room. The code also requires at least one detector in the basement, in a hallway leading to bedrooms, and on each floor of a multistory home.

The detectors must receive power from the regular house wiring (hard-wired) and have a battery backup. These requirements apply to new homes constructed after July 1, 1992, but are a good safety practice for existing homes as well.

The code for new construction may appear excessive at first glance, but consider that 64 percent of the victims of household fires are asleep at the time of emergency. And 80 percent of the deaths resulting from household fires are caused by the inhalation of smoke and gases, not the fire itself.

A smoke detector is most effective when it can be heard while occupants are asleep. This prompted the new requirement for detectors in each sleeping room.

Requiring that the detectors be hard-wired with a battery backup assures the units will work at all times, including during power failures. Still, it's important to test detectors regularly (once a month) and replace batteries annually.

Pressing the test button assures the unit is powered and the alarm works, but the unit should also be exposed to smoke (from a candle or cigarette) to verify that the detector mechanism is also functioning.

The new construction requirements are ideal, but battery-only smoke detectors are an acceptable alternative in existing homes. Just remember to check those batteries!

There are different types of smoke detectors. If properly manufactured and maintained they should all do their job well. You can be assured a smoke detector meets minimum performance standards if you buy products labeled by a nationally recognized testing laboratory or listing agency.

Acceptable labels include Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and International Congress of Building Officials (ICBO).

All rental units in Washington state are required to have at least one smoke detector installed. They are also required in all mobile homes.

As part of your safety plan, be sure each member of the family knows what to do when a smoke detector alarm sounds, and have a practiced escape route.

There's really no excuse, so BE SAFE!

Home Clinic answers questions about home maintenance, repair and energy conservation. It is prepared by the Energy Extension Service, a division of the Washington State Energy Office. It appears Sundays in the Home/Real Estate section of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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