Smoke Detectors: The Source of Fire
Smoke detectors are an essential tool for your household safety, just like your home’s security system. 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 biggest risk a homeowner can take is not having a detector in their house at all. An alarming statistic by the National Fire Protection Agency states, “Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.” They also state that there were no smoke alarms in more than a third of household fire deaths. 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…” These types of batteries, lithium ions, are the same being used in the detectors in houses today. Non-certified batteries, like the Sony ones, are a concern to many detector makers because they are not the intended battery of use.
The safest home is protected by detectors using fresh, intact, certified batteries that are regularly inspected. According to Arthur Lee’s report for the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, detector makers have made many improvements for these devices in recent years. Detectors can now be found with the battery life of up to 10 years. Cable Organized discusses maintenance of detectors to ensure they perform correctly in the worst situations. You must clean all detectors of dust and contaminant build-up at least twice a year. You must also replace all detectors at least every 10 years, and change batteries yearly while testing them monthly. These are all the best ways to prevent any unwanted false alarms, or worse, no detection of a house 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 in the United States.
Electrical distribution systems, including the power source cable into the home, the circuit breaker boxes, and the wires supplying current to all electrical fixtures, are the third leading cause of home structure fires. Therefore, it bears investigating how wired smoke detectors might contribute to a fire catastrophe. An article published by CRM Risk lists many ways wiring can start a fire. Physical damage to wires leading to smoke detectors can cause fire at the device; even correct installations can also become damaged or deteriorate with age; overloaded circuits, especially those mishandled amateur home installers, or that use with large fuses and circuit breakers can result in overheated wires, the breakdown of insulation and eventual short circuits. All are intensified by an overuse of electrical devices, leading to the sad but inevitable conclusion that “more smoke detectors make a home fire more likely.”
Structure fires are already a concern for homeowners and to add to their worries, a 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
How to Maintain Smoke Alarms. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from Cable Organizer, https://www.cableorganizer.com/articles/smoke-alarm-maintenance.html
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
Reports and statistics about smoke alarms. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from National Fire Protection Agency, https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Smoke-alarms/Reports-and-statistics-about-smoke-alarms