Around the House: Smoke detectors save lives

By: Ken Moon, Around the House
June 22, 2013 Updated: June 22, 2013 at 8:11 am

Dear readers: I know we all grieve for our friends and neighbors affected by the Black Forest fire - and remember them in our thoughts and prayers.

I'd like to discuss the most important fire safety system at your house: your smoke detectors. Since the mid-'70s, these faithful devices have saved thousands of lives. In fact, the number of home fire fatalities since 1977 has fallen about 50 percent even as the population has risen by a similar percentage!

Chances are the detectors in your house are the ionization type. These use a tiny (and harmless) radioactive source to count atomic particles. When ambient smoke interferes with these particles, the alarm goes off.

These sensors are ubiquitous in our housing stock because they are inexpensive, but they have some drawbacks. They "nuisance trip" frequently. Cooking and showering can lead to false alarms to such an extent that occupants yank out the batteries. Plus, this technology has a weakness. Most fatalities result from smoke inhalation, not actual flames. The ionization type is slow at detecting these smoldering, slow-starting blazes.

So I want to recommend you install a second smoke detector technology in your house. It's called a photoelectric system. This one is much easier to visualize. A small light shines on a sensitive surface, and when smoke obscures the light beam, the detector alarms. Pretty simple, but a vital technology to protect you and your family.

Bottom line: Install a photoelectric smoke detector in the bedroom hallway right next to the existing device. That way, you'll have the ultimate protection for both kinds of fires: fast-forming blazes like kitchen grease fires, plus smoldering fires - such as burning furniture - that, it turns out, are the most dangerous in single family homes.

Dear Ken: I smell gas around the meter outside. Do you think I have a leak? The gas company says no. - Nancy

Answer: You're probably OK. Gas meters include a small pressure regulator with a screened outlet attached. When the pressure in the gas main fluctuates, they can spritz out a little natural gas to relieve the system. Don't worry about cost. This takes place on the city side of the meter.

One other thing to look for a your gas meter. Does the pipe go right into the house or does it dive back underground? If it's the latter, you're not safe. Underground gas pipes can corrode and rust, and if they leak, you can't smell the gas until it's too late. Many of the gas explosions you hear about are older buildings that have this underground piping going into the basement. If yours does, call a plumber to fix it ASAP.


Ken Moon is a homebuilder-turned-home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show, "Around the House," is carried on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5, at 9 a.m. Saturdays. See

to contact Moon.

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