Detector Requirements

New smoke detector requirements

Deadline: January 1, 2010


The Massachusetts State Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has approved new smoke detector rules that will go into effect on January 1, 2010, less than a year away. The new rules apply to pre-1975 properties, bringing them into conformity with post-1975 rules.

Most landlords are aware that there are two types of smoke detector: an ionization type and a photoelectric type. The question is: which type should one install?

Until now, owners usually chose the cheaper smoke detector, which is the ionization type. But now, recognizing different sensitivities of the two types of detector to different types of fire, the State Board has taken the choice out of our hands.

The ionization technology is slightly more sensitive to fast-burning flames while the photoelectric technology is slightly more sensitive to smoldering fires. Both types of detectors, however, must meet exactly the same performance standard of Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.

The problem is that ionization detectors are subject to more false alarms when installed close to kitchens or to bathrooms with a bathtub or shower (steam is the problem), leading occupants to remove the batteries and thus disabling detectors entirely.

So the new rule says that only photoelectric smoke detectors will be allowed within 20 feet of an entryway to a kitchen or bathroom containing a bathtub or shower. This 20-foot requirement extends into any common areas in multi-family properties.

What about detectors outside the 20-foot limit? Here the State Board has taken the most expensive option, requiring both ionization and photoelectric detectors to be installed in the same locations where previously only one detector was required. Owners can install a single detector that combines both technologies, or the owner can install two detectors, one with each kind of technology.



New carbon monoxide detector
law goes into effect


Final carbon monoxide regulations allow battery detectors in all apartments


[February 2006]

The Massachusetts State Board of Fire Prevention Regulations ruled on February 2, 2006, that all apartments can be outfitted with low-cost battery-operated carbon monoxide (CO) detectors to satisfy the new state law requiring CO detectors in every Massachusetts dwelling.

Under consideration had been a proposal to require much higher-cost hard-wired detectors in all six-unit and larger buildings. SPOA pointed out that 6-plus buildings constitute just 15% of the housing market, so if battery-operated detectors are fine in 85% of housing, why not all housing? The State Fire Marshal and the Board finally agreed. Read More.