Most of us see our homes as a safe, secure and protective shelter for our families. And with the proper precautions that’s likely very true.
As we welcome yet another spring season, we are reminded that it’s that time of year again to ensure that your home has properly installed, functioning smoke alarms.
If your home has battery-operated alarms, you are urged to invest a little time and money and install fresh batteries in your home’s smoke alarms this spring.
There is no doubt that smoke alarms save lives. In its yearly report the Ontario Fire Marshall reported the number of residential fire fatalities fell from 97 in 1996 to 65 in 2005, representing a decline of 33 percent.
Since 1985 the Ontario Building Code has required new home builders to install hard-wired smoke alarms in all new homes and since March 1, 2006 every existing home in Ontario must have a working alarm on each story and outside all sleeping areas.
Smoke alarms are the most reliable and cost-effective, early-warning method to alert people to fires and ultimately save lives.
But there are some who suggest that it should be mandatory for builders to also install fire sprinklers in new houses, condos and apartments.
On the surface that may seem like a good idea, but upon deeper reflection, the research and evidence points in a different direction – right back to smoke alarms.
In 2005, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) released the results of its study of the use of smoke alarms versus fire sprinklers in homes.
It noted that “the purchase and installation and maintenance of sprinklers produce a comparatively high cost per life saved.” In fact, the study concluded that fire sprinklers cost $38 million per life saved compared to mandatory smoke alarms at about $2 million per life saved and about $2.6 million per life saved through children’s sleepwear flammability standards.
In other words, smoke alarms represent an extremely economical and effective regulatory way to save lives in the event of a fire.
So why not fire sprinklers too? It’s not that builders oppose fire sprinklers – we just don’t think it should be a mandatory requirement in the construction of new homes.
Another thing to consider is that newly-constructed homes are more fire-retardant and less likely to burn than ever before.
New homes that are least susceptible to fire, would be the ones forced to have fire sprinklers while the older, existing homes that spawn the majority of fires and burn faster would be left untouched.
Recently, Mike Holmes, a leading Canadian contractor and well-known media personality weighed in the issue of mandatory fire sprinklers, referring to sprinklers as a “band-aid” solution.
Instead Holmes says when it comes to fire safety in your house, the right options, hands down, are smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers.
The reality is that the cost to install functioning smoke alarms in unprotected houses is small compared to the cost to install sprinklers – and the impact on safety is much higher.
Clearly, smoke alarms are the first line of defense in the case of fire. Here are some fire safety tips for you and your family to consider:
- Make sure smoke alarms are placed either on the ceiling or 15 to 30 cm below the ceiling wall.
- Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in good operating condition. Test them once a month by pushing the test button.
- If your battery-powered detector begins to emit its low-power warning, such as a chirping sound, replace the battery immediately with a fresh one.
- Develop and practice an escape route with a meeting place.
- Once you exit your home don’t return. Too many people lose their lives going back into a burning home.
Certainly, every fire death is a tragedy, a life cut short. As builders, we share a duty with governments, firefighters and homeowners to do what makes the most sense to prevent future fire deaths and promote fire safety.
It’s time to return our focus to the dramatic impact properly functioning smoke alarms can have on fire safety in our communities.
It’s time to turn the need for smoke alarms into a social movement akin to anti-smoking efforts and seat belt campaigns. This will save many more lives.
And on final note, take care of your home and family today.
Make sure you have smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside sleeping areas… and please, please, make sure they are functioning properly.