Help me choose smoke detectors
August 23, 2013 1:18 AM   Subscribe

I am in an apartment and unsure what smoke detectors to choose to replace the existing ones.

I recently moved into an older building. As the existing battery-operated smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, I want to replace them. I have already purchased ionizing alarms for my room and my kids' room. However, I have since learned about photo electric alarms and also interconnected alarms. And I'm wondering about a carbon monoxide detector.

My home:
Older apartment on one level. We are on a low floor, with releatively easy access to both the hall stairwell and the ground below. I also have a safety ladder.

The bedrooms are separated. The previous owner had an alarm installed at the front door, kitchen, and outside both bedrooms (which are across the living room from one another). I understand that I may also need an alarm inside each bedroom.

I do not have a furnace or fireplace. But I do have laundry and all the usual appliances. The building has a boiler a few floors away from me.

I had purchased 10-year-battery alarms for outside each bedroom. But now I'm not sure what else to add or whether I should opt for interconnected alarms in the rest of my home. And whether I need a carbon monoxide detector.

I am in Vancouver, Canada. Interconnected smoke detectors are relatively new here (if available at all) and all use batteries, as opposed to the 10year batteries that are available. I was planning to go with battery systems, as hardwiring would be a major project, given asbestos abatement and strata rules. Should I be going with the 10 year alarms or with the change-the-battery-yearly interconnected systems? I have young children likely to sleep through alarms, so I can see the value of interconnected alarms, but my bedroom is also 20 feet away from theirs. I'm also unclear about photo electric vs ionizing. If someone could tell me what to order, I would feel so much better.

posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a smoke detector that is connected to my home alarm system. In the even that I'm not home, it will alert the local fire station that there is a fire. It didn't take too much extra work for the alarm installers to add to our existing system.

I would ask at your local fire station for answers to all of your questions.
posted by dottiechang at 3:03 AM on August 23, 2013

So, you own this apartment and/or have authority to do electrical work (as opposed to requiring your landlord to do whatever to meet B.C. code)?

Speaking as a landlord the value of an interconnected system is obviously the end of battery replacement hassles, either on my own or through a tenant. But then these are apartments that are individually so small the interconnectivity doesn't really make much difference, if you ask me, on a safety basis. For a larger apartment with separated areas it could.

So, assuming you have a choice the real question here is installation costs for an interconnected system, and that means going out to contractors and getting bids for the wiring and having it done properly.

I'm also unclear about photo electric vs ionizing.

This is a matter where they basically detect different physical signs of a fire, so for best protection, install both.

And whether I need a carbon monoxide detector.

There are basically two circumstances where you do: when you have an attached garage (and vehicle fumes could enter the building), or when you have gas appliances up to and including water heater and furnace. Anything that produces CO? Get a detector, and this project is a great time to get that done. If you have, say, steam heat and electric stove and your water comes from the boiler part of the building, you might not have as pressing a need.

Personally, I'd feel secure with the current system you have (and have already bought detectors for). But if code isn't telling you what to use here, it's up to you to decide your own comfort level.
posted by dhartung at 3:04 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing you might do is call your local fire station. They'll be happy to discuss your options with you and to give you expert advice. Sometimes they'll even come out to check out your digs.

I love fire-fighters.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:21 AM on August 23, 2013

Except in New York City, the vast majority of apartments are rented, not owned. Knowing this, I would say that smoke and CO detectors are your landlord's responsibility. Indeed, since it's fire protection equipment, I would imagine it is the building owner's legal responsibility to maintain/replace smoke detectors, even if your lease authorizes you to do electrical work.

Talk to your landlord first. I've been in apartments where the landlord got touchy about me even changing the batteries in the smoke detectors.
posted by tckma at 8:03 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your replies. To clarify, I own this apartment (condo). It is my responsibility. The code here isn't as stringent as in many other parts of the country or the US. My home was built before 1979 and thus it doesn't have hard wired alarms. Installing them would be very expensive, as I would have to do asbestos abatement for all the drywall, which has tested positive previously.

In asking about interconnected alarms, I was wanting to know about the wireless battery operated alarms vs installing single never-change-the-battery-for-10-years alarms. I am not planning to install hardwired interconnected alarms.

I'm not sure if that changes any answers. The fire department here can only recommend what is in the code, which, again, isn't as stringent as elsewhere.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:26 AM on August 23, 2013

Even if you ask them, "what would you pick for your family?"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:35 PM on August 23, 2013

Response by poster: Ha, I tried talking to a firefighter. He said they know more about putting out fires than preventing them and wasn't all that helpful, because he said the recommendations are aimed at people in houses, for the most part. Aaack.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:42 PM on August 25, 2013

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