Safety Alerts

Most people assume a smoke detector is a smoke detector…this is not true.

In the mid 1970’s less than 10% of homes had a smoke detector; now over 90% do. Nevertheless, this dramatic increase in smoke detectors has had little impact on the risk of death by fire. Why? Some studies have indicated that many smoke detectors are either inoperable or have been disabled. Nuisance alarm activations are a major reason why detectors are disabled. National Fire Protection Association, NFPA, studies have indicated ionization alarms account for over 95% of all nuisance alarms.

Another reason is the age of the smoke detector. All smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years.

What are the statistics on ionization vs. photoelectric smoke detectors?

62-1The majority of residential fire fatalities are due to smoke inhalation. Ionization detectors respond an average of 15 to 50 minutes slower than photoelectric. Some studies indicate they completely fail to work 25% of the time. However, ionization detectors respond faster in fast flame fires. Studies show 30 to 90 minutes quicker than photoelectric. Certainly, either smoke detector is better than none at all. Of course, a functioning smoke detector is most important. But if time and reliability are vital to our chances of surviving a smoldering fire, a photoelectric smoke detector is the best type to install in your home.

Less than 10% of all smoke detectors in homes are photoelectric.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

In a fire, the issue is time. Minutes and many times seconds will make the difference between life and death. The combustible materials in our homes are different from the past and the technologies of smoke detectors have also changed. There are two types of smoke alarms, ionization and photoelectric. 90% of homes have ionization smoke detectors installed; about 5% Read More

Does your radon tester follow the EPA guidelines? In a real estate transaction most radon tests are performed by the home inspector. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is the assumption that they are doing it ‘right’. This may or may not be true. The proper testing protocol you should expect is the following: Homeowner contacted to discuss Read More

In Existing Homes: After testing for radon and if the level exceeds 4.0 picocuries, the next step is to begin mitigation. You should look for a ‘certified mitigation contractor’. They will have completed the EPA required training and testing. In a nutshell mitigation for an existing home includes the following: Cover all exposed earth with a 6 mil poly and Read More

Radon mitigation is part of the MN State Building Code.  What does it mean when the MN State Building Code is modified to include radon mitigation methods as a requirement to build a house? Building codes are ‘minimum’ safety standards for construction. This says a lot about how dangerous radon gas is. It is no longer a scientific theory, it Read More

January is National Radon Awareness Month. Radon gas and real estate don’t mix well. The more energy efficient we make our houses the greater the risk of developing radon induced lung cancer. The radon gas health concern is no longer debatable; it is the #1 cause of lung cancer for non-smokers and the #2 cause for smokers. MN homeowners, real Read More

Fire barriers are often compromised and the homeowner never knows it. Home fire barriers have been a part of the building code since about 1960.  Homes built prior to that time were not required to have any fire protection and many different fire proofing methods have been added since then.  Fire safety is a big part of building codes as Read More

Because of the high cost of copper, electricians began using aluminum wiring between 1968 and 1974. Determining that a house is wired with aluminum is not as easy as it may seem. You might start with determining if the electrical panel was installed during the period in which solid aluminum wiring could have potentially been used. After that only a Read More

There are just two basic reasons for decks failing. The first is overloading and the second is improper construction. Overloading: deck failure usually happens unexpectedly. We have been using the deck for several years, even barbecuing for the family without a problem. But today we are having a graduation party. Fifty teenagers’ crowd the deck which has never carried more Read More

What happened to pressure treated deck lumber? Pressure treatment is a process that forces chemical preservatives into the wood. The wood is placed in a closed cylinder and pressure is applied to force the preservative into the wood. Preservatives protect wood from decay and insect damage. There are 3 classes of wood preservatives; the waterborne method is typically used in Read More

Deck failures are becoming more common. Why do decks fail? The most common reasons are: Old age Poor design Improper materials Overloading Decks should be inspected annually. All lumber should be inspected for rotting, particularly where posts meet the ground, at joist unions, and the ledger board connection to the house. Most of this rotting is caused by old age, Read More

Can my roof collapse from too much snow load? It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Since about 1950, cold climate states must adhere to engineering principles that configure the structure of the roof. They are based upon the highest potential roof snow load in your area. The building code will then require the roof be designed and sized to safely meet Read More

This very cold winter has been responsible for many accidents, including deaths from CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning.  These disasters might have been averted if a properly located and operating carbon monoxide alarm had been installed. For just $25 a battery-operated or for $50 a hardwired alarm can be purchased and installed. What is CO?  Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas Read More

What is the #1 cause of house fire? The answer is electrical wiring. During the holiday season wiring to Christmas lights and trees are particularly dangerous. Some tips to keep you safe are: Carefully inspect light strings each year and discard any with frayed cords, cracked lamp holders, or loose connections. When replacing bulbs unplug the light string and match Read More

This week I was reminded of how dangerous this time of year can be in the northern states. With snow and ice thaw and then re-freeze, gas meters become a very BIG safety concern. Who looks at their gas meter? The answer is nobody…unless there’s a problem. Every year MN home inspectors come across frozen or snow blocked gas meters. Read More