Smoke Detectors: The Source of Fire
Smoke detectors are an essential tool for your household safety, just like a lock on your door. Detectors play a huge role in fire safety, alerting an occupant when there is smoke in a building or house and allowing them enough time to exit without harm. Detectors seem to be easy to install, and are thought to require little to no care or attention. But with that belief, most detectors can become faulty and do not operate, or can even lead to a risk of starting a fire itself. Shorted wires or bad batteries can all be leading causes of these detectors catching fire, and both of these people do not check regularly. Without the appropriate maintenance of the detectors in your home, it is possible that the thing that alerts you of a fire is actually the cause of the fire.
The smoke detectors in your house are either hard-wired, meaning their main power source is from your house, or a battery-operated detector, which gets its power from a battery. There are many battery options for a detector, but the most common and efficient battery is the lithium battery. According to Arthur Lee’s report for the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, “In recent years, the market has offered battery-powered residential smoke alarms with long-life batteries of up to 10-years. The batteries are lithium 9-volt batteries…” But what is not known is the dangers of these long-life, lithium batteries. Lithium batteries do have a history of shorting out, causing a fire. In an article by Battery University, the author discusses safety concerns of lithium batteries and times where they have failed. “In 2006, a one-in-200,000 breakdown triggered a recall of almost six million lithium-ion packs. Sony, the maker of the lithium-ion cells in question, points out that on rare occasion microscopic metal particles may come into contact with other parts of the battery cell, leading to a short circuit within the cell… Quality lithium-ion batteries are safe if used as intended. However, a high number of heat and fire failures had been reported in consumer products that use non-certified batteries, and the hoverboard is an example”. Of course a hoverboard is not a smoke detector, but if the batteries are the same in the two, there is certainly a risk of a fire.
On the other side of battery-operated detectors are hard-wired detectors. As it should be noted, hard-wired detectors also use batteries, but only as a backup power source. The main source of power, however, uses wires. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), home electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year. It is also stated that electrical distribution systems are the third leading cause of home structure fires. In an article published by CRM Risk, lists many ways a fire can be started due to wiring. Physical damage to wires or other electrical equipment can cause a fire and installations can also become damaged or deteriorate with age. Overloaded circuits used with large fuses and circuit breakers can result in overheated wires, breakdown of insulation and eventual short circuits. These circuits will produce high amounts of heat, which can lead to fire.
Structure fires are already a concern for homeowners and to add to their worries, an safety device that has been known to help may turn into a time bomb. The wrong wiring or a bad battery could possibly turn this safety device into a fiery piece of plastic. People should not need to worry about this device along with the many other things in a home. But you may need to be concerned about even the most object, like a smoke detector.
BU-304a: Safety Concerns with Li-ion. (2018, January 4). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/safety_concerns_with_li_ion
Common Causes of Electrical Fires. (2012, December). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from http://cmrris.com/news-manufacturing-details/20/common-causes-of-electrical-fires.html
Home Electrical Fires. (2015, February 4). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from http://www.esfi.org/resource/home-electrical-fires-184
Lee, A. (2002, June 28). Preliminary Test Results on Lithium Batteries Used In Resident Smoke Alarms. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/lithiumfinal.PDF